Somehow, I have made it through the night. My head feels disembodied and I have the beginnings of a horrible migraine. I down a glass of water and take a few painkillers. My feet shuffle across the cool bathroom tiles and I turn toward the mirror. I take a good look at my reflection and frown. My cheek bones look sharper than usual and my eyes are watery. There are two dark circles under each of my eyes. I paw through my hair several times and then give up. Maybe a shower will help to tame this unruly mane. There is something almost ritualistic to removing your clothing and stepping into a shower. It’s like stripping back old, peeling paint to reveal a beautifully stained wood beneath. I close the glass door behind me and walk into the burning spray. It’s almost too much to bear but after several seconds my body adjusts. I needed this more than anything right now. I would have stayed in here longer but I can feel the water cooling. I sigh and turn the handle back to the center.
It turns out a long hot shower does do wonders for my energy. My head feels floaty but that is to be expected given my impending migraine. I draw a comb through my curls, dab on some concealer, and then lip moisturizer. I am not a huge fan of makeup but I still like to look presentable from time to time. My hair is thick and wavy and it can never seem to make up its mind on color. Some days it is a fiery copper and on others it appears a reddish-brown like the color of a fox’s coat in winter. I remember someone telling me once that it was auburn, but I think it really depends on the time of year. It is something that I have always hated about it, but I have good hair days too. I’m not a tall girl, but I’m not short either. I’m stuck between what guys considered cute and not cute. The girls that got the most attention in high school were small and petite. I’ve always been awkward, and quiet. Dating never made sense to me. I usually get through it by reading, playing games at home, and drawing. No one speaks to me because of my quiet nature and I kind of like it that way. It’s easy to keep track of a few friends from time to time.
I’m not sure why I am reflecting on this now. It has been five years since I have been to high school. Once I had gone to college, I replaced my old friends with new ones. Since graduation we had started moving on with our lives. I’m not really the sort to chase after friends. Besides, I have been comfortable with my own company for years. It’s a hard pill to swallow knowing that the one person I could share this burden with is gone. I have so many things that I wanted to ask him. The worst of it is I only have one week left and still no answers. If this really is the end of the world, I’m screwed. I can’t blame Zedd for tapping out, these visions are awful. They are so vivid that you can’t differentiate fantasy from reality. If fantasy is even the right word. I shiver thinking about the Creatures’ joy as they savored my agony. Will it really be so horrible? Or will I fly into a million pieces and burn to ash after the first blast? Even if the bombs only hit the major cities, the fallout would be devastating. I can’t save everyone, but I can damn sure try. Thinking about it depresses me. Who will take me seriously? They won’t. I sag into the bed and tuck my legs under me. The only way they would understand is if they have seen what I have. That thought has me curious─ if Zedd had seen them there has to be others right? I can go online, seek others through communities, and then maybe discuss it with them. I have seven days, maybe we could all meet up and change other people’s minds. Yeah, like a doomsday cult? Ugh. Nope, we’re fucked. No one will buy it and honestly, maybe it is just a freak coincidence that two people have shared. I know somewhere in the deepest part of my heart this is wrong, but I want to believe that none of it is true.
But, I have put this all off long enough. I stand and walk over to the piece of paper and then open it. I look at the entire page, frown, and then scan it again. It hasn’t changed since yesterday. It changes every day─ why has it not changed this time? What have I done differently? It occurs to me and suddenly I feel like an idiot. Shit, I curse silently, it’s because I haven’t slept. It has even changed the number of days but the picture is the same. I only get to see the illustrations if I actually live that pain in my dreams. I will have to endure them for another six days, almost seven. At least it’s falling in-line with what I have hypothesize. I had fallen asleep on the bus before and the picture hadn’t changed. I’m fairly certain, however, it has to do with it being the same day. There is only one way to test it and I really don’t want to. I alert the front desk that I will be staying another day. It’s a good thing this is the slow season, so no one has reserved the room. I tell them there is no need for fresh sheets, ask for a few more towels, and then hang up. I feel wiped out, there is no way I am going to stay awake even if I want to. I jot down a note to just leave towels inside even if I am here and then collapse under the blankets.
When I wake the sun is low in the sky and the room has become frigid. I sit up and stretch, then glance at my phone. It is nearly six o’clock. I yawn and throw the blankets off feeling refreshed. I relieve myself in the bathroom, wash my hands, and apply a bit more Chapstick and base. I grab my phone, laptop, the paper, and change into a pair of jeans and a long sleeved shirt. I take one last look at myself, grab my wallet, and then I am out the door. Thankfully, the town has a little strip and there are several restaurants and coffee shops to choose from. I settle on a diner that has wi-fi and claim to have the best breakfast in town. My stomach grumbles as I slide into the booth, reminding me that I haven’t eaten in twelve hours. The place is warm in colors and modernized enough that it doesn’t feel like a diner. There is no tacky art, or cheap looking benches. The colors are tasteful and calm. I feel comfortable here, it is an environment that invites you to stay with soothing music and friendly staff. I can’t remember the last time that I felt like a place wanted you there for a while. “Hey there,” the lady smiles as she walks up to me, “what can I start you off with?” I can tell she is older, but extremely attractive. She has a kind face with warm brown eyes and silky dark brown hair. I hate to admit it but I am pretty envious of that hair. I have always wanted to rock one of those edgy, straight haircuts instead of my messy waves.
“Hey,” I smile back, “is it OK if I stay here for a bit after I eat?” The woman grins from ear to ear. “Of course you can, sweetheart. Stay as long as you like. What can I get for you?” I skim over the menu, quickly realizing there are way more options than I anticipated. “Uh,” I stutter, “how about pancakes and sausage with some coffee?” Her eyes crinkle as she jots down my order, “you want one or two pancakes?” “Three,” I say quickly. Her eyes widen, but she nods. “You take cream and sugar?” “Just cream,” I say. She nods again and then walks away calling over her shoulder that she’ll be right back. I’m not sure why I keep putting off looking at the paper. I’m still in shock over the fact that I slept so peacefully. I honestly can’t remember dreaming. Thank goodness for small miracles. I stare at the little sliver of paper as if at any moment, it will catch fire in my bag. I want more than anything for the same city with the same hooded figures to be present. Maybe it is just affecting the new city I moved to. Either way, I am not prepared to find out. I have the weekend to depress myself further. And then what? I wonder. Warn everyone in those two cities to evacuate? Yeah, that will go over well. About the only thing I can do to make people listen is phone in a bomb threat. I’m not familiar with protocol on this, but I’m quite sure they would dismiss it as a practical joke in less than a day. It may save several people’s lives though, so it may be a good option. If they even would issue a city-wide evacuation. I grow more apprehensive by the second. There is no way the city would take a woman’s threat seriously. Even if it is a bomb threat. They probably receive a handful of those throughout the years. Shit, with all the crazy people out there, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s once a month.
I make a mental list of what I would need to do so people will take me seriously:
- Voice changer
- Google number
- Suspicious activity that could point to potentially being a bomb placed there?
This won’t work, why would I even think it would? I suddenly feel sick to my stomach. How in the actual hell do I make other people think I’m not insane? The one person that would have helped me is dead. At least he won’t have to suffer through all of this. I’m very envious of that right now. I would love to be gone, boom─ light’s out. No pain, no skin peeling back or shards raking through the meaty pulp of my exposed flesh, no creaking bones or dangling eyes. I swallow grasping at my neck. Suddenly I feel extremely parched. My hands shake as I guzzle down water the waitress brought me earlier. If there is any hope of finding solace, it is long gone. I feel heavy in my skin. I can’t move. I don’t want to. The weight of everything is seeping in. How could so much have changed in a matter of a week? It went from the best moment of my entire life, to the single-worst experience I’ve known in my twenty-three years. A bullet to the brain isn’t sounding too bad right now. I remember taking a neuroscience class and the professor telling us that there are no pain receptors in the brain. Once the bullet got past the nerves on the flap of skin that covered my skull, I would feel nothing. In a different time these sort of thoughts would have been miles away before today. It’s evolving into a sort of fantasy now. One in which I could squeeze the trigger and─ “Here you go, sweetie.” I jerk slightly at her soft voice, but manage a smile. “Thank you very much,” I reply.
She pauses and then takes on that sort of tone you only hear from your mother, “You OK hun? You’re looking a bit pale.” I take a moment to look into her soft, amber eyes and then shake my head, “oh, I’m fine. Just a little tired is all.” She purses her lips and raises a finely manicured eyebrow at me, “alright, I get it. I was a young girl once. Your food will be right out. You just holler at me if you need anything else.” She places a hand on my shoulder and pats it softly. Normally physical touch would be something that bothers me. I would shy away or tilt my body in a way that would keep them from reaching me. Sort of an unspoken message about boundaries. I have done it all my life. Strange how lately I’ve welcomed other’s touch, like an attention starved child. Both this waitress and Devon have managed to do it in less than a handful of days.
I sigh, content with a full belly. I’ve put the note off long enough, but I still go ahead and check my phone messages and emails first. Zedd’s funeral is going to be held on Monday and everyone from work is invited to come and pay their respects. Poor Devon, I want more than anything to make it better for him. It must be hard to both lose someone close and have a new employee that same week. I can’t imagine what he is going through right now. I try thinking of things that I could send in a text message─ maybe some comforting words, but my brain just draws a blank. What do you say to someone that you barely know about someone else you barely know dying? I decide that I will wait and do it later, I feel too scattered right now. I am on my third refill of coffee when I finally decide that I am ready. No matter what that piece of paper shows me, I still have time to think about what I can do. With shaky hands I reach into my bag and remove it. I slowly pry one side open and brace myself for the content. It is now or never. I am about to find out if this is going to happen all over or just in my home town and back in Dallas. I know that it is hoping for too much, to think it is all a coincidence, but who knows? Maybe it is. The city of Santa Fe burns in front of me as I unfold the last corner of paper. Crestfallen, I search the page. The hooded figures are hard to see, but they are there in the mountains. The beautiful, charming city is a pile of rubble. The mushroom cloud looming over it high in the mountain air. A single tear drops down and lands at the bottom of the page. I swipe at my face, embarrassed to be crying in a public place.
Before I fold it back up, my eyes look to where the poem has ended:
This night, hallowed night, They gifted the world to silence.
I have less than a week. I muse on the last line and then on the poem itself. It sounds as if people are these little, lost creatures that death would guide home. Except this is nothing like I expect it to be. Instead these horrible, awful beings that enjoy my suffering exist in my life. Suddenly I’m bitter. Why me? Why can’t I just live in perfect bliss and die. I remember stories told to me as a child that death would come swiftly to those that remained good and kind. Death bringers were brutal to those that are wicked, not compassionate beings. Except, of course, the four horsemen in the book of revelations. Not that I am educated on any of that. I haven’t touched a single book of religion in my life and from what I did know I was a child at the time. It’s been ages ago, but I do remember that one of the horsemen is a bringer of war. Surely, these harbingers of death aren’t with a divine being that created us. Why would a god create something so─ merciless? This is pointless thinking. Even if I know exactly what they are, I will be powerless to stop it. And six days isn’t exactly enough time to research anything properly. I sink into the chair. Every waking moment is a countdown to the end. I stare outside into the beautiful, quaint town and then over at the kind waitress. I will certainly do everything within my power to protect her. And possibly anyone else that will listen. It may be a fruitless endeavor, but at least I can die knowing that I tried. I really am that brand of idiot. I sigh and pull out my laptop. Maybe I can find something online that will help. Hopefully with any luck others that are like me.
After more than an hour of searching, I have just about given up. There are, it seems, a lot of people that believe that the end of the world has been coming for a while now. There’s cultists, evangelists─ standard forums with conspiracy theory nut-jobs, and just about anyone in between but none of them have described what both me and Zedd have been through. I pull the note out again and look it over. What am I missing? We couldn’t have been the only ones. I even google notes about end days, and bombs, and near death experiences with bombs. All of which have had some─ interesting results, but not the ones that I am searching for.
“Hun, I just wanted to let you know that you’re fine to stay as long as you’d like but would you mind scooching over to the smaller table there, in the back?” She motioned over to where the tables were back toward the kitchen. Her face looks genuinely contrite as if she has disturbed me during an important bit of work. My face probably has the serious look my mom would point out as I would become lost in my art. “It’s just, I’ve got a family that needs seating and that table’s a might small for them.” I nodded my head and quickly get up. “Of course” I stutter, “not a problem at all.” It takes a minute to realize how busy the place has gotten since I have come in. I make my way over to the smallest table that I can find and get everything set up. The soft voices have risen to a dull roar as the restaurant fills with noisy guests. I know I can go back to the hotel, but I prefer the company of the waitress and the people. It makes me feel less alone. I unfold the paper for the thousandth time hoping that I may have missed something important. I feel like I have googled everything possible, except─ I glance over the text and on my current online search. Hold on. I blink and then look between the two of them again. One of the forums has mentioned Watchmen and it’s in several parts of the poem. I feel my excitement rising, maybe there is something to that. I try my luck at searching Watchmen. I frown at all the cartoon images and shortly find out that there is a comic, a movie, and a T.V. show by the same name. Damn. I try again, this time adding the term apocalypse with it─ and then, end times. All that manages to bring up are the same nut-jobs. Nothing, or no one is mentioning them specifically. Hooded figures brought up the usual comic-like illustrations of death, but nothing like the hyper-realistic drawings that lined my page. Nothing that could instill the sort of dread I have in the pit of my chest as I stare at their dark, hungry faces. I shiver, running my hands up and down my arms. I know I have been at the diner for a while, but I didn’t realize how long until the smell of food makes my stomach rumble.
I smile over at my coffee mug. The waitress has been amazing and kept it full for me. I wave across at her and she quickly shuffles over. “What can I do for you? You about ready for that check?” I smile sheepishly, “Actually, I’m starving and ready for round two. What’s really good here?” Her smile widens and she glances over at the kitchen, then leans in, “you won’t believe it, but we have the best enchiladas on this side of town. Even better than Enchilada’s up the street. The owner’s son makes his mama’s recipe and I swear to you, that boy puts love into every layer.” I grin back at her, “Alright, um─ I pause looking at her nametag but frown when I don’t find one. “Laura,” she says softly. “Laura,” I repeat. We smile, “I’ll take the enchiladas with red sauce.” She makes an ‘ooo’ shape with her mouth nodding her head, “good choice um─” she looks down at me, her lips pursed comically as she waits, her pen posed in the air. “Kate,” I say giggling at the silliness. Man, I needed this in my life right now. “Alright Miss Kate, I will have those mouth-watering enchiladas out to you asap.” She swishes away and I’m practically glowing from the attention. The sun looks as if it is about to come up. I glance at my phone, and then look again─ it is 5:45─ in the morning. I can’t believe I have been here for nearly ten hours. Enchilada’s must have been an anytime meal here but they sound like a pretty damn good breakfast for me. I watch as Laura bustles about wiping down tables and grabs checks. It is probably nearing the end of her shift. Honestly I’m surprised that she is still here. Aren’t normal hours around six or eight for waitresses? I really want to tell her everything, but not sure how to say it. How do you tell someone to leave town without sounding like a total crack pot? I mean, I don’t look like a terrorist, it’s kind of hard to when you’re still mistaken for a teenager at twenty-three. But she won’t take it seriously unless I word it in such a way that it’s believable. At least I will have time to think about it over a hot meal.
In less than fifteen minutes, a large plate of ooey-gooey stacked enchiladas tower in front of her. Every layer contains onion, cheese, eggs, and crema. The corn tortilla’s smell reminded her of a mom and pop taco shop she had visited as a kid. They were fresh, maybe even handmade. It’s filled and topped with red enchilada sauce, a generous amount of cotija cheese, and a fried sunny-side up egg. It’s so pretty I almost don’t want to dig in with a fork. My stomach has other ideas, however, and I find myself practically wolfing it down. About halfway through, I slow down and really taste all of the flavors. There are little bits of fresh onion and I sigh in content. Normally, I’m not a fan of raw onion but somehow it works with all the ingredients. I need to get this recipe, it is definitely last meal worthy. Laura hadn’t been joking when she said it was made with love. I panic when I don’t see her for a few minutes, nervous that I have missed my chance to talk. My eyes tear up when she rounds the corner with a fresh steaming mug of coffee. “Hey sweetheart, I’m about to end my shift but I thought I’d bring─” she pauses, getting a look at my face. “I know it isn’t my place, but, you sure you OK? I got a few minutes before I need to head home and feed the pups.” I smile through blinding tears and though I’m trying to be brave, they manage to slip down my cheeks. I pat at the chair across from me. She doesn’t even hesitate and slides into it. “What’s going on? Boy trouble?” She smiles with a faraway look in her eye as she stares out into the street. She turns back to me, her warm eyes widening. She places a hand over mine and pats it gently. “This seems much worse than just a man. You’re not in trouble are you?” She hesitates and glances around before leaning in and whispers, “my brother is a cop, he wouldn’t be awake right now but I could see if there is something that could be done for you.” She crosses her legs and leans back, her cool hand not leaving mine. “Some cities have piss-poor excuses for cops, you know the usual amount of corruption and politics. I’m not saying we don’t have any of that, we’ve got our share too, but the cops around here take care of us and I guarantee Rob would listen.”
I’m floored by this woman’s kindness. Back at home waitresses wouldn’t hardly look at you, let alone offer help to a stranger. Everyone is sort of buttoned up in Pennsylvania. You just didn’t talk about your problems, especially at home. Talking to a stranger? That would be unheard of. Mom and dad were good people, but not warm people. We’ve always been quiet about most things. If I came home with a bad grade, I would get a head shake from dad and my mom would softly say, “Kate, you can do better.” It was that quiet that always pushed me to get some sort of reaction or acknowledgement of my achievements. The best I would get was a satisfied grunt from dad and a smile and pat from mom. Maybe she would even rub up and down my arms affectionately. I lived for those sort of reactions, it made me warm and feel all glowy─ like I could accomplish anything.
It wasn’t as if they didn’t show affection or show that they were worried, it is just a different sort of love. This is open and raw. I really can’t wrap my mind around it, but I appreciate it just the same. Finally, I am able to find my voice, “I need you to listen to me and not judge. Just, keep an open mind─ OK?” My voice comes out shakier than I wanted it to. I never sound strong. I always sound like a scared little girl. I hate how soft my voice is. She raises her eyebrows and nods slowly, “alright, I can do that. Don’t you worry about how you sound.” Her voice is encouraging because she thinks she’s rescuing me from something. She thinks maybe I’m running away from an abusive relationship, or bad parents. If only it were that simple.
I inhale deeply and steady myself to try and sound like a rational human being. How can I word it to where she will listen? I decide on telling her the truth, but add a believable lie. I feel somewhat guilty about it, but it is the only way she will buy what I’m selling. I clear my throat and begin, “my family works in the government,” I start. She frowns and then nods at me. I can tell she is realizing that this isn’t going to be a normal problem. I am not entirely lying about that─ my dad, now retired, had worked in the post office for over thirty years and my mother was a public school teacher. “I came out here because I wanted to see for myself if things were happening like back at home.” My voice sounds a little more confident this time and I feel my shoulders relax. I can do this, I tell myself, maybe I can save people.
Laura has let go of my hand and she’s hugging her arms. “Alright, go on,” she whispers. I look back at the restaurant and then lean in toward her, “You and your brother should get as far away as you can from any major city. I’m talking miles away, go to the desert or the Colorado woods, Arizona, or hell even Texas. Just─ get away from Santa Fe.” Her eyes grow hard and she purses her lips. She crosses her arms and looks me up and down. Laura looks like a real mom now sizing me up. The tears are really starting to come and I grab a napkin and swipe at my face and nose. I can tell she isn’t convinced. “I─” my words falter a bit as I hiccup. I wipe my face and try again, “I just want to tell someone. I don’t expect you to believe me, but Laura,” I look deeply into her eyes, my brows creasing, “Something very bad is going to happen here and I need you to believe me. I’m not crazy, or some sort of conspiracy nut, I just want to help you because you’ve been very kind to me.”
Laura nods and bites down on her lip. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do here,” she pauses, “but this is my home. I don’t know where I would go, and I mean, I just met you. You could be pranking me for all I know.” I sniff and let out a long sigh. “However, I don’t think that you are ,” she adds. She looks off to the side, her voice taking on a resigned quality, “Listen, I miss a day of work and it’s a big deal.” She shakes her head at me, “I’m comfortable, but it’s because I keep my longer hours and I have my regular customers.” She sighs, “even if it were something bad, Antonio could lock up the place and we could just hide in the back or stay put.” She’s dismissing it in her mind and thinks I’m some sort of spooked child. “You can’t hide from this,” I say firmly, “no one can. Laura it will take out half of the planet, please try to hear what I’m telling you.” She stares into my eyes, “you actually believe this, don’t you?” I nod. “I don’t just believe it, I’ve seen it.” She fidgets with her hands, “like, a bomb going off? They would have had that on the news, hun.” I’ve lost her, I can feel it. No matter what I say, she’s going to think I’m just some misinformed girl who’s father has scared her. She probably thinks he’s some government conspiracy nut too. There are a lot of them in government offices. How can I make her understand? The answer is simple, I can’t. I can try my best but at the end of the day it boils down to what she accepts in her own mind. I feel sick to my stomach, but I realize this is all that I can do. “It won’t be in the news. It will just hit.” I gently massage the space that is between my eyebrows and the bridge of my nose with my thumbs. “Listen, I know how all of this sounds, but I have to at least try. There’s nothing that I can say or do to convince you, I just want you to know.” The tears have mostly dried so I dab at the remaining wetness, happy to be free of them.
“Well, I appreciate it sweetheart, but I think someone may be messing with you. If it is something this big, I think half of the world would have known about it by now. Especially with all these damn satellites, and movement detection, and thermo-whatever─ these men have got their war devices on lock down. I don’t think anyone really wants to use them, you know? Doesn’t bode well for the planet’s health and just about everyone would die.” I raise an eyebrow, “Putin doesn’t give two shits about anyone. I could see him doing it easily.” She tilts her head and nods, “fair point. But look, even if it got that bad, we have counter-measures in place for that reason. Lots of people will die, and that is awful, but I don’t think anything like what you are describing would happen.” I nod, lost in my own thoughts. I knew this would be the way it would go, and that’s how it will be with anyone. Even if someone told me the same way that I’m telling her. It is a lost cause. I stand up and extend my hand, “Thank you, Laura. I really appreciate everything that you have done for me today. More than you could ever know. You take care of yourself.” I turn and walk away. I hear her say something but I am several feet away at this point and can’t hear it. It doesn’t matter and I can’t care about it right now. She will be lost just like the rest of them.
Is this how the world will really end?