He can see them all looking at him. They don’t have bodies, only shadows, nor do they have faces. Only eyes, piercing white eyes without irises nor pupils, just the whites, but they’re not even white. They’re luminescent, they’re glowing, they’re reaching for him. Trying to catch him, to save him. But it’s too late. He’s falling too fast, fallen too far.
They get smaller as he falls further and further below them, but they don’t stop watching him. Nor do their eyes shrink, nor do they dim. Twelve orbs of burning white light hover far above and beyond him as he plummets through the darkness and into…
They’re one light now, they’ve merged into a burning radiant core, the light at the end of the long dark tunnel, but he’s not moving towards the light. He’s moving away from the light, he’s falling back to the beginning, but still he can feel them watching him. Still he can feel their devilish smiles. Still he can feel their harsh, mocking laug
The apartment isn’t very clean. The room isn’t very spacious. It’s not a very great place to live, but this is the man’s home. He doesn’t like it, but he does respect it.
Respects it enough, at least. He won’t live here forever, he’s not going to break his back trying to keep the place spotless, nor is he going to repair every little thing that falls into disarray. The big stuff for sure, like the rocking chair’s propensity to fall over backwards when he falls asleep in it, that needs to be fixed, as do any broken windows, but the cracked windows? The chips and gouges in the tabletop? The scratches in the paint on the wall? The clothes on the floor, the lightly used dishes in the kitchen, the holes in the furniture where the stuffing poofs out? Nah. Small stuff like that doesn’t require attention, it can be overlooked. Life’s too short, man, especially in the days of today. That we’re here for a good time is questionable at best; it’s a certainty that we’re not here for a long one. Our man suspects the end to come any day now, as a matter of fact. Why else would he have forgotten his own name?
“It cou–” he says, then stops himself to look frantically about the room with eyes wide as dinner plates. There’s nothing here, just his ratty little nest. Trying again, “It could be the pounding in my head. Probably why I was scared of my own voice. Might be why I’m talking to myself right now. No way to know for sure.”
The nameless man crawls out of the toppled rocker, then rolls and stands up. His balance is a bit wobbly at first, but he doesn’t fall back over. What keeps him upright is the state of things, it perplexes him – the curtains are all drawn, yet the room is brightly lit. How could sunlight hit the room if the curtains are blocking the windows?
“Oh. The light is on,” as the nameless man looks up. “I forgot about lights. Weird.” He feels his right hand rubbing the back of his head, which he didn’t consciously tell it to do, but the sensation feels nice. It hurts, but in a soothing way. In a healing kind of way, perhaps. Regardless, nothing to be mad at. “At least it’s working.”
He stands there staring at the electrical light for a few minutes, rubbing his head all the while, seemingly entranced. “How are the lights working?”
The light doesn’t answer him, it only keeps glowing.
“Oh yeah, electricity.”
The light is beginning to be too much for the nameless man to deal with. He looks away from it and back at the table. It’s covered in playing cards set up for solitaire, and the cards all have writing on them. Writing and the number 52 in a red circle with a black ring around it up in the top right corner. He picks up a random card.
“In nineteen’seventy-four, Kerry said Democrats push health care too much. But in Twenty-o’three, Kerry says, “Expanding coverage is my passion.” The nameless man scrunches his face. “Who the hell is Kerry?”
The card flutters to the table and lands face-down next to the box. The back of the card has that same 52 emblem on it, as does the box. There are a few cards in the box – a couple jokers with dollar signs in the corners, a Go to our website! ad, a reminder to buy a t-shirt – but the shiny markings on the back grab the nameless man’s attention. It seems to be writing, but it looks like it was done with a small paintbrush dipped in silver paint. Looking at it is making the headache worse, but he forces himself to read it anyway. The nameless man must know what the message says.
“We’ll miss you, John. Good luck out there.”
It’s signed with six letters: C, H, W, A, D, and G. “Chwad’guh. Nah, probably not… I suppose I must be John, though.” He looks around at the room and feels, for the first time since waking up, the dense unfamiliarity of it all. “Or maybe this is John’s house.”
A few silent moments of staring at the messy game of solitaire pass. “Maybe I should leave. Could always come back… could always find a new place, too. Anything could be out there. No way to know for sure.”
The light shines unflickeringly. The moments pass on and on.
Time to Go
John loaded his backpack with all the canned and otherwise preserved food he could find in the house. He cooked himself a chicken Parmesan meal with what was left in the fridge, but it wasn’t much. It tasted brilliant, but it wasn’t very much. He found some jugs of water too, strapped them onto his backpack to save room on the inside. The fuel tank is full, the waste tank is empty. The lights are turned off. The cards are in the box.
“I suppose it’s time to go,” John tells himself, whether his name is John or not. It doesn’t really matter at this point, John’s a good enough name. Only one he’s got.
He’s standing at the front door now, waiting for his hand to fly up and turn the handle. He stands there waiting for a long time, at least an hour. Maybe two. No way to know for sure.
Then, John makes his move.
The door opens to a devastated world. The roads are in ruin, the asphalt splintered; the forest is burned, the trees dark towers of charcoal; the sky is blistering, the clouds so gray they threaten to glow purple; the air is breathable, though it scratches at his lungs. But it can’t all be like this. Maybe there’s a compound somewhere, maybe there are survivors. Maybe John isn’t the only man to live through Armageddon.
Or maybe there was no Armageddon, maybe this is just a small backwoods town that got caught up in a forest fire. Maybe John was just passing through and he found a place to squat. Or maybe John set the fire. “No way to know for sure.”
There may be a way to find out, though.
Pack on his back, John starts a’walkin’.