November Challenge: Day 13

Long time readers of my blog may remember a teaser I posted a little over a month ago. I claimed it was the first few paragraphs of my next writing project. Well, that ended up being a lie, but I decided that today was a good time to start it up again. I’ve included the first 3 paragraphs that I posted back in September, with a few alterations.

I’m not entirely happy with it, to be honest. I think there’s a lot of good stuff in it, but not the right stuff. It’s supposed to be a story about misfits, people so out of place in the world that they are overlooked by everyone, even the forces of good and evil as they clash for the final time in the apocalypse. Eventually it was supposed to lead to the group of “weirdos” being forgotten about after the end of the world, left to rot in a permanent state of limbo because neither side could be bothered with them. The main character would then grow so angry, so vengeful, that he would set out to finish what the apocalypse couldn’t, finally releasing his fellow outcasts from the torment of existence.

So, I’ll probably do some heavy rewrites on this piece over the course of the month. Let me know what you like or dislike about it so far.

Also, I have a question. I’ve already decided what tomorrow’s story is going to be, and I wanted to know if anyone had any ideas they wanted to add. It’s going to be a group therapy session for super heroes with useless/embarrassing powers. I’ve got a good list of some pointless powers, but I’d love to hear some more. Just throw some out and I’ll see if I can’t work them in. Thanks in advance.

***Edit*** Well, I fucked that up. Now I even remembered to copy and paste the actual story into the post. I think that’ll help a bit.

Writing Challenge: Day 13 (Apocalypse, Working Title)
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2334 (new word count over 2000, don’t worry)

There were times, before all this happened, when I used to think that if somebody handed me the keys to the Apocalypse I’d turn the ignition and drive the world straight to Hell. Halfway down I’d roll down the window and flip the bird to all those poor bastards in Purgatory. Those dumb schmucks still struggling up the endless mountain towards the Light at the summit, not realizing that the end had already come and gone. Sorry boys, show’s over. You took too God-damned long.

Those were always my darkest moments. Usually alcohol was involved in some way or other. Not always. These days I generally don’t think like that. Not because I’ve suddenly come to appreciate the value of life in all its splendor, or because I’ve decided to stop drinking. I just stopped because it became pointless, redundant. Somebody beat me to the punch.

It wasn’t as sudden as I thought it would be, the end of the world. The very end was. The very end was sudden, and violent, and terrible. We saw the light of those final moments all the way over here in middle America, half a world away, felt the tremors shake the ground and saw the skies themselves weep salty tears to blight the land. It was just an eerie glow in the night sky, a faint aftershock beneath our feet, but we saw it and felt it and knew what it meant. Yeah, the end was sudden, but the whole thing was long, tense, and confusing. In hindsight there were signs even before anyone knew to look for them. To be fair they weren’t obvious. In the early days there no troop deployments, no mass suicides, no parades or slogans or prophets come down from the mountains. There were only dreams, and feelings, and glimpses of things in the corner of the eye that vanished as soon as you even thought of looking at them. The whole world held it’s breath and never stopped, and in the end we suffocated.

The first time I noticed anything amiss was the day the morning sky was stained blood red. I know it sounds strange to even mention it now, when the sky changes color on a daily basis, but back then such things were rare. I drove to work that morning, keeping to the back streets like I normally did, and could barely keep my eyes from the roiling mass of deep red clouds that spread out above the treetops and the slums that I called home. Cheap duplex housing with tiny, weed choked yards. Squat apartment blocks with bars on the windows of the first two stories. Tiny houses, barely more than shacks, scattered amongst the decaying brick buildings like heaps of garbage someone had gathered up and cobbled into something resembling a home. All of them built right up against the south side of the main railroad tracks where nobody else would want to live. My busted up Pontiac clanged as I crossed the tracks and made my way toward what was laughingly referred to as the town’s industrial district. Half the warehouses were derelict, nothing more than metal boxes with busted windows, but there were a few businesses that clung on. Most of them, like my own employer, were part of a national chain who had snapped up the cheap property to store their goods for distribution to their stores in the nicer parts of town. I was almost fifteen minutes late, having had to drive more slowly and carefully than usual to take time to glance at the world’s crimson roof. It didn’t seem to matter, since most everyone who worked in the warehouse was outside still, including my immediate superior. My car sputtered into an empty spot near the back of the lot and I grabbed my lunch pail and walked toward the group.

Nobody had much interesting to say. A few guys, real “man in the pub, know it all” types claimed that this sort of thing was common after a sizable volcanic eruption or similar geological event. However, none of them could recall news of any such event when pressed for details. A few others began to voice their own opinions on the matter when one of the managers glanced at his watch and called an end to the chatter, waving the men towards the warehouse with a clipboard and threatening to take away our first break if we didn’t get inside and get to work.

At lunch, those of us who worked in the electronics department, repairing and refurbishing the various computer components needed to make the stores in the area function efficiently, all gathered in the break room, taking turns at the microwave, not using the second one because having both running at the same time as the television would blow a fuse. The topic of discussion was predictable.

“Anything in the paper about any volcanoes?” asked Stew, one of the printer repairmen. Stew was a beefy sort of guy, though if you said that to his face he cuff you upside the back of the head. He had thick, meaty arms, a broad chest, a second chin, and a very limited sense of humor.

“Nawp,” grumbled Chuck, the oldest of the group. Chuck was at least sixty years old, but it was the kind of sixty that had only made the man tougher, more gnarled. He had wispy gray hair and the thickest set of glasses I had ever seen. He worked on the oldest machines in the department, the dot matrix printers and the bulky box-like monitors that still got sent back from time to time. The fossils, essentially. It was a good fit for him.

“I keep telling you,” chimed in Stephen, “it’s the air base. They’ve been testin’ some new weapon or somethin’. That there’s the proof, plain as the nose on my face.” It was an apt description. Stephen’s nose stuck out from his face like the fin off the back of a shark and was usually bright red to boot. Like the rest of him it was long and thin.

“Yep, that’s what you say every time,” quipped Steve. Steve was the opposite of Stephen. Whereas Stephen was long and gangly and looked like a cartoon impression on a piece of silly putty that had been stretched as far as it would go, Steve was short and round and altogether brief. That’s why everyone called him Steve. Because it was shorter than Stephen. “Maybe one of these days you’ll be right.”

“I’m always right!” he shouted over the laughter. “It’s just that it always gets hushed up, so’s we don’t hear about it. One day that whole place’ll blow up and them genetic experiments will get get loose, then what’ll we do? Huh?”

“Well, most of us will run and hide,” said Stew. “But I bet you’ll be happy to see your family again.”

“Oh har har,” he scoffed as we all laughed again, though he had to suppress his own chuckle.

“What about you, Brian? Is this the sign of the Apocalypse? Is the rapture come at last?” Steve asked the last of the group besides myself. Everyone was still chuckling, and he’d meant it as a joke, but Brian’s face lost it’s mirth.

“I don’t know,” he said with a deep, almost serene, tone to his voice. “Might be, might not. I don’t think if we can ever know when the end of days is upon us. We just have to act as though they might be and live every day as best we can.”

There was this to say about Brian: he was either the sanest one out of all of us, or the craziest. He was a deeply religious man. Not that that made him crazy. He was always polite about it, never tried to convert anyone and never got offended by the off color humor that was commonplace in the break room. It was just that he always gave the impression of being completely and utterly secure in himself. Even if he professed ignorance, you could tell that deep down in his core was an unshakable confidence of belief. I have never, before or since, seen anyone with faith like Brian. It was like iron, like steel, like—like tungsten. Tungsten has the highest melting point of all metals and is used in lighbulbs (I learned that from one of the know-it-alls over in shipping and receiving). That’s what Brian’s faith was. Completely unmalleable and capable of dazzling illumination.

It was a shame that Brian was the first to disappear. One day he was just gone. He never said where he was going, but it isn’t hard to guess. When the Arch Cenobite marched down from the highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains he began gathering followers for a pilgrimage to the East. By the time he reached the foothills his movement had become an avalanche, sweeping up those of like minded zeal in it’s rush. He was only the first of many. One day they passed through town. The following day Brian didn’t show up for work, and none of us have seen him since.

His absence affected the rest of us more than we could have possibly imagined. We may not have shared his faith, but he had been our strongest constant over the years. Even Stew and Stephen, who were always quick to harangue him every chance they got about his conservative political stance or his participation in Civil War reenactments, were lost without him, much the same way a man traveling South would get lost if his compass no longer pointed North. He had been a fixed point for the rest of use to orient ourselves by, and when he left, he took with him any semblance of security with him. I have to assume he’s dead now. Even if he managed to make it across the ocean and into the Old World before they closed their borders to foreign ships, he must surely have perished in the final moments.

Like I’ve said, the beginning of the end was slow. It was weeks after the day the sky turned red that Brian disappeared, and nearly a month after that before things really went to shit. The morning sky still dawned crimson, and it always regained it’s natural color before sunset, but the days were growing shorter, and the length of time the sky stayed red was growing longer. Around the time of the Arch Cenobite’s passing, the sky was red for half of the day. Stephen maintained his stance that his was due to military testing in the nearby airfield, and would only nod darkly whenever someone pointed out that news outlets around the world were reporting similar conditions. No one slept easily anymore. Our dreams were clouded with portents of calamity. Everyone’s seemed to be different, and yet we all seemed familiar with them when we shared them in the break room.

“I’ve buried two of my children,” Chuck said one day, out of the blue. Nobody said anything in response. “Two children, and one grandchild. I saw ’em last night. Cryin’ black tears and tearin’ at their skin like it burned ’em just to be alive. Tol’ ’em I was sorry, that it ought have been the other way around. Them burying me. Didn’t make no difference. They jus’ kept on cryin’ and wailin’ and tearin’. They tried to reach me, to hold me, I think, but they was stopped. Stopped by the man in white…”

“The man with the mask?” asked Steve, dark bags under his eyes and his voice like sandpaper.

“Yep,” replied Chuck, hardly even surprised at the question.
“He scares me,” Steve continued. He was staring at his bowl of soup like it was as deep as the ocean. So deep he could lose himself in it.”

“What’s he like?” asked Stephen. “In your dreams, I mean?”

“Tall,” said Steve simply. “Impossibly tall. Taller than he looks. Like he’s as tall as a mountain but so far away that you can’t tell the difference. His voice is marmalade. Thick and sweet. I can never remember what he says, but I know I want to trust him, to follow him.”

“But you don’t,” said Stephen. “Because it’s wrong, and you don’t know why.”

“Yeah.”

“We used to slaughter pigs back home.” Stephen said. “I used to help. My daddy never made me do the actual killing. He’d do that bit himself. Putting the bolt pistol to the head of the pig and shooting a metal rod through it’s brain. Supposed to be painless. I’ll never forget the first time I saw one of the pigs squirm as he pressed the pistol to it’s head. It jerked at the last second and the bolt missed by a few degrees. It thrashed around for almost a minute before it finally stopped. My daddy told me that happens sometimes and it’s okay. It’s unfortunate and messy but it has to be done. I see the man in white in my dreams, holding the bolt pistol. He isn’t slaughtering pigs, but people. People I know, strangers, famous people, doesn’t matter. Sometimes I think he misses on purpose, but he just keeps telling me that it’s okay. Asking me if I want to have a go.”

There was silence for a minute or so. Finally, someone broke it.

“Do you?” asked Steve.

“Do I what?”

“Have a go.”

“I—I don’t know,” Stephen said. “I never make it that far in the dream. I don’t think I do.” Something in his voice made him sound unsure, almost ashamed. I wondered if he was being completely honest, but didn’t press the matter. I was just glad that nobody asked me to tell them my dreams. We all knew that everyone had them. Those that wanted to talk about it did. Some people just needed to get things off their chest. I wasn’t one of those people.

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