|Fiction and More|
Short Science Fiction Story
David E. Booker
“The world’s supposed to end in the next few days, George. So what do you want?”
I looked over at the latest incarnation of the devil, a suited dealmaker for New Tomorrows, Inc. His teeth were straight and pure. His eyes were clear and bright. I then looked outside the bar window. Another abandoned building fizzed to the ground and its rubble bubbled away.
“I’ll have another beer,” I said.
“That’s all?” Clearly, my angel was not impressed.
“Make it an import.”
He said nothing.
“What else is there?”
“World domination, for one.”
I grunted. His suggestion wasn’t even worth a weak laugh. “World domination, for a world coming to an end. Sort of like giving me the keys to a burning house.”
I don’t know if he was impressed, but for a moment he became as still as his perfectly placed blond hair. “Money, then.”
Another building bubbled down and vanished. I wasn’t sure how it was being done, but it was being done. One day a voice had filled the sky, everybody hearing it in his or her own language. The voice said the world would soon end, for each of us to make our own arrangements, that angels (though some claimed it was the word “agents” they heard) would arrive to guide us in our final hours of need and on to the Promised Land, or some such nonsense.
At first both secular and religious leaders denied the authority, even the existence of the voice. To be fair, so did most of the rest of us. Then buildings started disappearing, and then these angels or agents appeared, and it became harder to deny what was happening, particularly with the average daily temperature rising as more and more buildings bubbled away.
Still, there were some who refused to believe. I was fully in that group until a few days ago. That’s when Adam, my angel, showed up. Dressed in a dark suit, a white shirt, and a dark tie, I began to suspect it was the wrong Almighty we were pinning this Armageddon on. Outside another building effervesced. Inside the air conditioning kicked on and the lights flickered. I wondered how much longer it would last.
“I can help you.”
“That’s what my divorce lawyer said: let me help. And that’s why I’m sitting here and not in the house I built with my own two hands.” I released the mug of beer and stared at my outstretched fingers. I could see them clearly. I shook my head. Too much sobriety for the end of the world. A guy in a nearby booth talked about how all the houses in his subdivision were gone, all but his and one other person’s. The land in between their houses was “scrubbed clean,” he said. “Like those scrubbing bubbles,” he said as if we all knew the commercial he was referring to. There wasn’t anybody else in the booth with him.
“You don’t want to be left behind, do you?” Adam asked.
This angel did not know whom he was dealing with, and maybe that should have occurred to me sooner. I looked over at him. “What will happen to the land?”
Adam opened his mouth, let it hang silently for a second too long, and then closed it. He looked genuinely nonplussed. Finally, he said, “I’m not at liberty to say.”
I nodded. I reached out and picked a couple of pretzels from the bowl. I placed one edge-on on the bar. The opposite edge I kept under my left index finger. I twirled it with the forefinger of my right hand. I then flicked the pretzel behind the bar. It clattered against a half-empty whiskey bottle. The midday sunlight and the non-smoking in the bar made it all too easy to see. I had never been much of a bar fly, but that was before God and before I lost my job as a codes inspector. I took another swallow on my beer. I was working on being a cheap drunk. I wasn’t succeeding.
After a moment, Adam said, “What are you waiting on?”
“Enlightenment.” I wasn’t, but I thought it was better than saying Godot.
“You don’t have a job.”
“And don’t forget no wife, no kid, no house, no hobby.” I looked over at Adam. “But I do have my drinking.”
Adam nodded. “Not the end I imagined. Don’t you want to be taken in rapture. Isn’t that how your kind wants its world to end?”
My kind? I guess we had to be something, but I don’t know kind, in any of its forms, fit. “Well, there are some of us who don’t quite own up to that theology.”
“The Hindis are wrong?”
I had to admit that I didn’t know what Hinduism said, at least not specifically. I did know that most religions had a period of decline and fall into chaos or nothingness out of which the next era began. Even older religions such as that of the Norse had Ragnarok, where thousands of mythic warriors charged through 540 doors at the end of time and battled until only chaos was left. For the big three religions of the Near East a strong moral component was added to their declines. The others pretty much said it was part of the natural order of things. I thought all of it was an extrapolation of the realization that one day we won’t be here and we all have enough ego to desire that the world ends with us. And in a sense, I guess it does.
“Not all of us think quite the same way,” I said.
A slow smile came across Adam’s face. The building next door effervesced. It shared a common wall with the bar, but the wall didn’t disappear. A sugary smell, almost like bubble gum seeped into the room. A few people gasped. Three people stood and acted as if they were going to leave. Even I shifted in my stool.
“If they leave they’ll be raptured,” Adam said. There was a faint sense of emphasis in his voice, almost as if was a low warning.
The three people, two guys and a gal, headed toward the front. We watched as they opened the old oak door and stepped outside the Preservation Pub. The door clattered shut. Something, a scarf maybe, blew up against the frosted glass panel in the upper half of the door, but we didn’t see any more of the group. A hush came over the bar. There were only ten of us left. There might be eleven of us. The bartender had stepped out back shortly after pulling my third draft beer and had not yet returned. If he didn’t return soon, I’d pull my own next draft. For a moment I vaguely remembered something about foreign and door coming from the same root word way back in history. At least I thought that was true. If Al, the bartender, were here, he could tell me. He had been an English prof at the university in another life and we’d often exchanged words about words.
“What does your kind think?” I asked.
“Like you, we are not one of a kind.”
“I think you mean of one kind.”
“Yes,” he said, then added, “This language.”
“There is more than one kind of angel?” I nibbled a salt crystal off one of the pretzels.
“Let’s suppose there is variation among the ‘angels,’ as you call them. Say not all of us believe in this rapture as you call it.”
“I don’t ---” He stared at me and I let it drop.
“Suppose among the angels there is a central idea in our religion that you can’t rapture somebody who doesn’t want to go and that you can’t take a world until all the sentient creatures, no matter how backward, have voluntarily left.”
I looked at my pretzel. It tasted stale. I’d have to tell Al about that. I placed it on the bar. “Sounds more like alien invasion to me.”
Adam raised an eyebrow. “Sometimes this crude form of communication tricks me.”
I nodded. “I know what you mean. My ex often said I didn’t communicate well either.”
“That’s not ---”
I stared at him and he let it drop.
A couple of women in their early forties got out of their booth and headed toward the door. I turned on my stool. They were nicely dressed, probably married though their husbands might no longer be around. One was a bottled blond and the other a red head with a few streaks of gray. The red head placed her hand on the door.
“Don’t go,” I said.
She had the door partially open, but turned and looked at me.
“It’s time,” she said.
Then they both walked outside, giving each other one last embrace before exiting.
“Probably not my type anyway,” I said, turning around in my stool, but Adam was gone.
I glanced around the narrow barroom. He wasn’t on any of the other stools; he wasn’t in any of the booths along the wall. I glanced up toward the second floor, but there was nobody, hadn’t been anybody in a few days.
I looked at the guy sitting alone in one of the booths. He was looking at me as if I were crazy.
“Where is he?” I asked.
“Him.” I pointed toward the stool beside me.
The guy shrugged, and then he got up and headed toward the door.
I grabbed his arm and jerked it. “Don’t go.”
“It’s closing time.”
“Closing time.” He yanked his arm free and stepped to the door. As he opened it, he turned toward me and said, “Dumb ass, leave.”
I stared at him.
“Now, stupid.” He gave me the finger.
“That’s not nice,” I said, feeling my face flush with both anger and embarrassment.
The man took a step back inside, turning to face me. “Well, pip squeak, what you going to do about it?”
I charged toward him. I hit him with the full force of my body, or I thought I did. Instead it felt like he was a swinging door, opening wide and fanning me outside. I tried to stop. But I stumbled out onto the sidewalk, then off the curb and onto the brick road intersection. The toe of my shoe caught in between the edges of two bricks and I splattered to the street. Things were warm and very fuzzy for a minute. I rolled over and looked up at the corner building. Three stories tall, built in the 1890s, I watched the bar effervesce, turret and all. As it disappeared, the man stood in the doorway, smiling as he disappeared.
I got to my feet and stepped toward where the building was, but it was too hot to get closer. I hesitated, then turned and walked away. The palms of my hands were bleeding from scrapes, so was my lip, and my left side was sore where it hit the bricks first. As I walked away I felt the sole of my shoe flop up at my toes. I looked down and saw the sole had been partially ripped away from the upper.
Ahead, about a quarter mile away, I saw the two women. They were looking back and smiling. They didn’t seem to be in any hurry to move on. I did my best to catch up.
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