The Unforeseen End
Paul might be the only person left alive. His father, a minister of the blackest cloth, would’ve claimed that as evidence God had a sense of humor. Even Paul could recognize irony when it hit hard as a sledge hammer.
He’d discovered his roommate sprawled on the couch in front of the flat screen. A rerun of SpongeBob SquarePants blared in the background and a box of Captain Crunch was scattered across the pebbled texture of the beige upholstery. The visual had spurred him into panicked retreat but hadn’t done much good. Paul backed out of the apartment and over the body of his neighbor. Shoving against the filthy carpet of the hallway, he dug the heels of his work boots in the frayed surface and took in each detail of Mrs. Stemler’s appearance. Her face was a tiny wrinkled heap above the gaping neckline of the threadbare housecoat. The old woman’s eyes were huge and wet-looking behind the thick prescription lenses. A lump of what might have been Raisin Bran stained her dentures and a beer can was locked in the grip of one gnarled hand.
Instinctive flight response kicked in and adrenalin flowed. Paul fled. Three more corpses, dressed in workout clothes, lay tumbled on the exterior stairs. Yoga mats piled at the bottom of the steps reminded him of brightly colored monstrous tootsie rolls. His leap over the trio would have impressed an Olympic judge. He landed on a half-eaten energy bar, skidded wildly for a foot-and-a-half, and deliberately averted his gaze from the ground-floor unit where the single mom lived. Just thinking of the tow head kids heaved bile up his esophagus. Chest thumping and stomach churning, he bolted.
The town sat silent. The emptiness was chilling and unnatural.
Paul ran until his anatomy quivered. After his panic receded, he found himself standing on an expansive lawn. The buildings were instantly recognizable. He staggered, kept his balance and gulped air into his strained lungs. At least no bodies littered the scene. No classes were in session during summer which meant no lifeless teens dropping dead, lolling boneless and androgynous as video game characters.
He suppressed a shudder and frantically shut down the images threatening to fill his mind.
A man barreled around the corner of the science complex. Paul yelled and straightened as he recognized Ethan. The newcomer altered his trajectory. A kernel of data popped in Paul’s mind but he had no time to study the notion. The men briefly hugged, slapped palms and knocked fists in the middle of the manicured green where they’d once played football, snuck cigarettes and lied about snagging girls.
Graduation, only four years ago, could have been another lifetime altogether.
Cheeks pale, Ethan’s animated features displayed shock. “Lewis face-planted in his Cheerios right at the kitchen table.” He jerked loose and lit a cigarette. He sucked hard and expelled smoke in a shaky stutter before continuing. “I thought at first he was hung-over,” he shrugged, “you know, like usual.” He exhaled again, voice ragged as the words poured out. “Mike was in his room, collapsed on top of his Xbox. Fable III played on the screen and there were Fritos spilled on the floor.”
Paul punched Ethan’s shoulder and almost pushed them both sideways. “Jeezus, that sucks.”
Hunched low, Ethan concentrated on breathing, puffing out clouds of smoke in between gasps.
Coughing into his shirtsleeve, Paul spoke, his gaze roving the landscape. “You know my dad preached at us during every dinner, nailed the end times into our psyches. He was always telling us to prepare for the Lord’s deliverance and pass the lima beans, or some shit.”
Ethan used the tail of his dress shirt to mop his forehead. “I remember your dad was ready to rumble when it came to religion.”
Paul swiped the pack of smokes. Ethan dropped the burning butt, ground the filter into the soft turf beneath his sneaker, and reached out his fingers, grasping for another. Paul stuck one in his mouth and handed back the crumpled package, struck a match to light both tips. “I’m relieved he died last year. This would have really pissed him off. I sure as hell never pictured such a lame-ass end to the world.”
“I’ll give that an Amen.” Ethan craned his head, stretched his neck to look in all directions. “I imagined there’d be zombies. I didn’t see this one coming.”
The duo traversed the empty field and loped down an alley to the main thoroughfare. Peering past the granite blocks shaping the corner of the Second Mercantile Bank, they sprinted across to the local brewpub, ignoring the grotesquely arranged bodies inside automobiles.
“How many others do you think are left?” Ethan pushed open the unlocked door and scanned the interior. He lurched to the bar and slid around the end, pulled open the cooler and plunged inside.
Paul hawked and spat. “You know the statistics as well as I do, maybe ten-to-fifteen percent of the population.” He started at the sight of a pair of denim-clad legs protruding from behind a wall of boxes. “We need a plan. July’s a bad month to be in a burg whose inhabitants are ready to push up daisies and still above ground.”
Ethan reappeared and tossed him a beverage.
Paul caught the Aquafina on reflex. He twisted the lid and guzzled, approached the bar.
“Great idea. My uncle’s got a cabin at Lancaster Lake. It’s remote. At the most there’ll only be a handful of folks to bury.” Ethan winked. “Chris is my dad’s bat-shit crazy brother. He hunts all his own food, and he’s like us, which means he’s probably still kicking.”
“Let’s grab an SUV and blow this graveyard.” Paul raised his water in a toast.
Ethan clashed his plastic bottle against Paul’s. “Here’s to having gluten allergies.”
Paul grinned. “Screw that noise.” He lifted his drink and repeated the action. “Here’s to being the survivors.”
Flash Fiction Challenge: An Uncharted Apocalypse @ www.terribleminds.com