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Author's Note: A special thanks to Barnabas Deimos, BladeTheCut, Midnite Marshall, ReignBotHorror, Soliloquy Man, and Stephanie Swan Quills for their excellent renditions. They're great narrators and they really should get more attention for their work.
The irony of the song “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden playing on the radio was not lost on Anthony. He chuckled wryly as he looked out the car window at the sky. He assumed the irony was not intentional. The last thirty minutes, the radio had been playing randomized songs. He was pretty sure there wasn’t anyone left who hadn’t abandoned their posts at the radio station. Anthony took a deep drag from his cigarette and blew out smoke along with a wistful thought.
“The entire world is a sinking ship and we’re all scurrying around like rats.”
Getting out of the city had been the only hard part of his trip thus far. The people in the city had really lost it. Given their impending fate, a lot of people took to looting, getting wasted, and generally getting into mayhem in an effort to get in touch with their baser desires. Anthony didn’t see the point of it. He wanted to face the end with a sober mind and a clear conscience. (With as clean a conscience as his last minute scrubbing could do anyways.) For once in his life, he had decided to try and face something without slinking back behind the veil of a drug-induced stupor.
Anthony was five days sober and wasn’t enjoying it at all. He knew most of the symptoms from his fair-weather friends who had tried to go cold turkey: sweating, aches, a runny nose, and insomnia. (Although the last one could be attributed to the unusual circumstances he found himself confronting.) One symptom that caught him off guard however was the priapism. He was harder than a dissertation on quantum relativity, which was hardly making his drive a pleasant one. He imagined how he looked, a sweating, shivering, and shaking shit-show with a substantial stiffie. As ridiculous as it might seem, he had somewhere he wanted to be before the end and nothing was going to stop him.
He turned off the paved highway and onto a dirt road. The forest was on either side of the road and seemed to swallow him up as he drove deeper in. His destination was a run-down cabin that he used to go to with his friends so they could ‘commune with nature.’ What that really meant was shooting up in a different locale. The cabin belonged to one of his friends and chances were slim that Anthony would find him out here. The last he saw of him, he had just mainlined a syringe full of a mystery substance that another junkie convinced him was pure H. Anthony knew he wasn’t going to see him ever again.
Anthony let himself drift into the hazy pleasant memories that surrounded the cabin. Most of those memories were blurry after being tinged and contaminated with so many illicit substances, but even if he couldn’t remember everything exactly, he could remember that it was probably very fun. After five more minutes of driving, Anthony arrived at the cabin.
It was as run-down and dilapidated as he remembered. The door wasn’t even on its hinges anymore. He stepped into the disarray. There were expended cigarette butts everywhere and the occasional needle littered the ground like landmines. Anthony moved carefully through the remains of what was once his life. He kicked a spoon with a burnt bottom. He had lived here for three months with two other friends and his dog. He smiled at the memory of his dog. Tracker was a good dog. He was a big dumb black lab, but he was loyal and affectionate.
Anthony wiped at a tear and left the disheveled cabin behind him. What he wanted was in the back. The woods butted up against the cabin like a wave preparing to wash over a coastal city. Anthony took a deep breath to steel himself and ventured deeper into the woods. He remembered that there was a clearing one hundred yards up ahead and that’s where he wanted to be.
He stood in the clearing and let himself drown in the pleasant memories. He remembered riding in the back of his friend’s pickup truck to the cabin. Tracker had been so excited and enticed by the smells around him that he hopped out of the truck before it even came to a stop. He vanished into the woods for a few moments before returning, panting up a storm. Anthony scratched him behind the ears and they went inside.
The clearing was ten or fifteen feet wide and gave him a clear view of the sky.
Anthony sighed and said aloud, “I guess you are wondering why I am here, after how we left things? Time is short so let’s skip the formalities. I came here to say how sorry I am.” He ground his teeth and swallowed back his emotions before he continued, “I guess I should eulogize you before as I didn’t do that in the first place. I loved how you would follow me around and roll on your back every time I paid any sort of attention to you. You really were starved for attention. Every time I was zoning out on the couch, you would sneak up on me and lick the tips of my fingers.” Anthony chuckled at the pleasant memory before he went on, “I’m sorry you died the way you did.”
The memories once again swallowed him whole. They had spent all of their time shooting up and barely paid attention to the world around him. He had been out of it for what seemed like weeks before he finally came crashing back down to the world. It was the smell that snapped him out of it. It was a saccharine and cloying scent. Curled up at his feet was Tracker. He was now nothing, but skin and bones. His eyes had turned a milky white and flies had already swarmed the body drawn by the scent of death. He had starved.
Anthony let the realizations pound into his brain one after another like an unrelenting ocean. Tracker probably could have found sustenance if he ventured out into the woods. He could have left at any time because they hadn’t shut the front door in their haste to go trainspotting. He could have survived had he decided to leave the stoned Anthony behind, but he didn’t. He was loyal. He stayed by his master’s side waiting for alimentation and affection that would never come. He thinned and still he stayed with his master probably licking at his unresponsive fingers hoping to elicit a response. Days passed and his bones became more pronounced. Weeks passed and reduced him to a skeleton with fur clinging to him.
Anthony choked back more tears and said, “I picked you up. You were so light, so weightless. I carried you into the woods; I began digging at the soft earth with my hands. I wanted to give you a decent burial; you deserved at least that much. I am so sorry! I am sorry you died that way, I am sorry my friends came to and started talking about scoring some more H, I am sorry I didn’t even bury you.” This time there was no containing his emotions, the floodgates opened and Anthony wept, “I just left you out in the opening to be picked apart by scavengers and insects. You didn’t deserve that.”
There were no bones left; animals and the passing of time had picked the dog’s corpse apart. Anthony continued to talk, “I’ve hurt a lot of people in my life, I stole from my parents to feed my habit, I took advantage of and betrayed my friends' trust, but the worst thing I have ever done was out here in the woods in this clearing. You were by my side when you died, it’s the least I can do to be by your side when I go.” He glanced up at the horror that awaited him, that awaited everyone.
The pinprick of inky blackness had grown in the sky. It was now like a tumescent cancerous mass and Anthony imagined its jaws were snapped open wide to swallow everything in a single horrifying gulp. Anthony watched as the space around it was distorting and being drawn in by the black hole’s intense pull. He stood by where the body of his best friend had once been laid to rot and be torn apart and felt the fear rising up in his chest. A blurb of lyrics floated into his head and he couldn’t help, but smile at the poor timing of it all.
Anthony hummed the song to himself standing at the grave that now served as a monument to all of his sins as he waited for the world to be swallowed whole with him alongside it.
Billy watched the looter through the sights of his revolver. He had just smashed the store window with a brick. He had no idea where the brick had come from. Maybe that was why his fellow officers called him Dim. At times he spent an inordinate amount of his attention questioning things that didn’t need to be questioned. It didn’t matter where he had gotten a brick, the fact he had it and used it to smash the shop window made him a looter.
He yelled, trying to project his authority, “Stop! You are under arrest!”
The looter regarded the officer with the same look one might give to a unicorn. He was bemused that there was even anyone left trying to uphold the law with the end only hours away.
The looter said, “What’s the point? We’re all going to be black hole fodder in a matter of hours, why not take what I always wanted?”
Dim shouted, “Stay where you are!”
The looter turned to him and pointed at him as he began to reproach him, “You are one stupid fucking-”
Dim squeezed the trigger.
Dim watched him die. He clutched at his chest in surprise and staggered back. The looter fell on his back while the police officer watched the blood begin to pool under him on the street. He had once seen himself as the cities’ last bulwark of hope against the anarchy that had gripped them, but that illusion was shattered as the looter died. The cities’ last ‘bastion of hope’ fled back to his house.
His wife, Felicity, greeted Billy at the door. She was wringing her hands and it was obvious she had been crying. She pulled him into an embrace and wept with relief. She had urged him not to go to work today. Billy dissuaded her by telling her it was his duty. He likened it as an obligation to the badge he wore. He took off the badge and dropped it on the ground; he spoke softly:
He sank down into a chair at the kitchen table while his wife poured him a shot of whiskey. He raised it to his mouth, but his shaking hands practically sloshed out all of the liquor before it could even reach his lips. She poured another for him and he was a little more successful this time. She asked the question that he knew was coming the second he walked through the door:
“What are we going to tell the kids?”
They hadn’t told the kids about the black hole, they were divided whether or not to cause them distress over something that they could not control. His wife wanted them to know everything; Billy wanted to protect them from the end. He had been protecting them all of their lives, he felt the least he could do was protect them at the end.
He began, “Don’t.”
She pressed onward, “They need to know. They’re frightened.”
“Then why didn’t you?”
Felicity looked him in the eyes and said, “I think it should be you that tells them.”
This didn’t surprise Billy in the slightest. He always broke the bad news, he always took the kids in for their shots. He was the enforcer, the bad guy. Felicity was there to kiss away their tears and soothe their complaints of injustice. He helped himself to another shot and this time succeeded in drinking it without spilling a drop. He resigned himself to his fate.
Felicity had insisted on staying downstairs. She wrapped her hand around the bottle and made it very clear that she needed to calm her own nerves. Billy went upstairs to the kids’ room. They were living on a budget so all three kids were consigned to a single room. They were young enough that it didn’t matter to them, but Billy could see a shit-storm bubbling up in the future.
"If we had a future," Billy thought wanly.
Billy’s three children sat together in the room. The youngest, Ben, sat focused on his Game Boy. He tried to recall the name of the handheld; it was a D-something or other. To him the handheld would always be a Game Boy and every game station that ever existed was a Nintendo. The six year old was trying to ignore his eight year old brother and ten year old sister who were talking to themselves in a corner of the room. Chris, the second oldest was close to tears and Kim, the eldest was crying. This disheartened Billy more than anything else. She was a tomboy, she never cried. She was a trooper.
Billy read the situation immediately. They knew that something bad was happening. They had probably read it plastered all over their mother’s face and divined it from her wringing hands. His appearance broke the floodgates and they all rushed towards him and were wrapped up in his embrace. Billy held them as tight as he could. They eventually pulled away and asked the question he was dreading.
“Daddy, what’s going on? Did something bad happen?”
Billy looked at the terrified faces of Ben, Chris, and Kim. He had wanted to keep his resolve and appear strong for them, but it just wasn’t possible. He dissolved into tears before them. He had always been there for them, every lost baseball game, every scratched knee, every hurt feeling. He was the great and mighty protector and now he had been reduced to an impotent blubbering mass.
Billy wiped at his eyes in a futile attempt to make the tears stop, but they kept flowing out of him. Ben wasn’t able to make sense of the situation and had begun to cry as well. Kim was paralyzed by the shock of the scene before her. She had never seen her father cry. Chris was the only one who decided to act.
He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around his father’s neck and choked, “It’s okay.”
Billy was hit by the realization. He was the protector! He could still protect them from this.
He had to react quickly. It had to be seamless in rapid succession before the realization could dawn on them. Before they could register what he was doing. He didn’t want to see their faces warp into terror, he could only hope that they would be too surprised to realize what he was doing until he had done it. It would be quick. Billy thanked and cursed God that he hadn’t yet taken off his revolver.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Billy’s aim had been accurate. He had hit his marks, but he wasn’t quite quick enough. He fell back and impacted the floor with a hard thud. He sat on the ground for a moment, before he realized that he wasn’t done yet. There was still his wife and then himself. He turned and left the room with an image burned into his mind. The youngest, Ben looked at Billy through shocked eyes down the barrel of the .38 special revolver. He had managed a choked scream just as his father had pulled the trigger.
Felicity had of course heard the sounds and gone upstairs to check them out. Her mind had tried to rationalize the sounds. Maybe her husband had thrown something, but as she looked at him in the darkened hallway with the revolver in his hands, those weak attempts crumbled. Her chest grew tighter and tighter. She turned to run, but Billy raised the revolver and shot from his hip. It caught her in the side of her face and sent her into the wall next to the stairs. She slid down the wall leaving a small trail of blood and toppled down the stairs.
Billy followed her down, hoping the bullet had hit something vital or the tumble down the stairs had done its job. It had not. She was dragging herself feebly across the floor when he reached her. She rolled on her back to look up at her husband and he almost gagged. The bullet had practically torn away her left cheek, exposing her tongue and broken teeth, it was the same one that he used to plant such tender kisses on.
He raised the revolver and declared through quavering lips, “I love you so much.”
She managed, “No, don’t-” just as he squeezed the trigger.
Billy had left the charnel house. He couldn’t stand to be in there with them any longer. He would see them after it was all said and done, but he didn’t want to spend another second in the house that held the remains of his three children laid out in their room like sleeping angels or his wife spread out on the living room floor with arms stretched outward in a Jesus Christ pose. He would do it on the front lawn.
Billy took a deep breath, steeling himself for what he had to do. He didn’t care about the chaos rampaging around him. To Billy there was only him on his front lawn with his revolver. He put the revolver in his mouth. It tasted so sour, he had to think of something sweet. He cocked back the hammer. The smell of cordite made him want to gag. He squeezed the trigger.
Billy cried out, “No!”
He counted the bullets. Kim, shot in the chest. One. He pulled Chris towards him and pressed the gun under his chin. Two. Ben stared wide-eyed down the sights of his gun. Three. Felicity, trying to inch away with blood pouring out of the side of her face. Four. Five. The sixth and final bullet dawned on him. The looter. Sixth. He had no more bullets.
His friends at the station always did call him Dim. Billy laughed. It was a manic laugh that would have sent chills up the spine of anyone that heard him. He doubled over laughing until it hurt. He laughed and laughed although he found nothing funny. He kept laughing as the tears came. He was laughing while what looked like an ink spot grew in the sky, threatening to blot out everything. Billy laughed and laughed at his fate that felt just like suicide.
Try to Live
Jack Robicheaux sat up in bed, he had heard just about enough of this argument. He intended to storm off and end the conversation. The voice called out to him from the bed, “Where do you think you’re going? This is an important decision and I think we have to make it together.” Jack paused mid-stride with his back facing their bed.
He blew out an exasperated sigh. At times, loving Kato could be so challenging. He was insistent, he was full of life, he was like a force of nature. Loving him was like embracing an earthquake, like hugging a hurricane. He was passionate, and tended to act without thinking. At times he frustrated Jack beyond belief, but it was this personality that he fell in love with in the first place. He always made such rash decisions and now he wanted Jack to dive into another one of his misadventures head-on alongside him.
They had both gotten the news at the same time. They had snuck out of a party early. Kato was in one of his moods and couldn’t be enticed to have fun despite being surrounded by all of his friends. He didn’t tell Jack directly to leave, but he was the master of letting him know passively. He acted melancholic the whole time and eventually Jack relented and they slipped out away from the festivities. Kato always seemed to get his way if he persisted long enough. It was while they were listening to the radio on the car ride home that they first heard the news report about the emerging black hole.
Kato’s reaction had been almost instantaneous after they confirmed that it wasn’t some sort of twisted prank. It took him only minutes to process the inevitability of their demise. He suggested that they ‘opt out’ and save themselves the panic and turmoil of their impending and inescapable fate. He spoke like he wanted Jack to swerve off the road and go careening off of a cliff. Jack was always the voice of reason and rationality to Kato’s ephemeral and emotional side. It was why they worked so well together.
They argued about it all the way home and took the argument through the front doors of their modest house. For the next couple of days, it was all they did together. They argued, bickered, and quarreled about what to do. Kato wanted to go out side-by-side before the end came to greet them and Jack wanted to wait and see what was going to happen.
Kato’s voice called out to him, “We have to talk about this. You have to listen.”
Jack snapped with his back still turned to him, “You mean I have to agree with you. That is what you always mean. You aren’t looking for someone to discuss things, you just want some one to acquiesce to you. It isn’t happening this time! I’m not your soldier to bark orders at!”
Kato pled, “Please Jack, come back. Sit with me a while longer. I need you.”
Jack slouched slightly before he spoke in a softer voice, “This isn’t right.”
Kato asked, “Come back to bed, we can discuss this just a little while longer, it’s not like we have all the time in the world to hash this out.” Jack cracked a smile. Regardless for how infuriating he could be, Kato really knew his dark sense of humor. They clicked on a level that some of their married couple friends couldn’t even achieve. The man in the bed spoke again, “We can make it so quick. You still have that pistol from your time in the Gulf War, you keep that thing in such good shape. You could make it quick.” His voice dropped to a whisper as he crooned, “Bang. Easy and quick. We can get away from this.”
Jack whirled on him and shouted, “No! I’m not running, I’m not shooting myself in the head just because you want to die side-by-side like this were a goddamn soap opera.”
Kato stared at him with unmoving, unblinking eyes. Jack always felt naked under his stare. Even now. Loving him was a trying and rewarding experience, but in this moment, Jack only felt pity. He was scared, they both were scared, but for different reasons. Kato didn’t want to live anymore, he had been depressed long before the announcement. He was afraid of dying alone. Jack was afraid of being left alone.
He remembered how Kato had been with him through thick and thin. He supported him when he decided that it was time to do his civic duty and enlist. He had returned from the Gulf War with more baggage than he had originally left with. He remembered Kato wrapping himself around him in a hug so tight he thought he might crumble in on himself when he had woken up late at night screaming. He remembered the dreams of fields engulfed in flame, belching black smoke up into the sky like it were a tableau from a depiction of the hellish apocalypse. He remembered the sudden shock that came from a stray bullet opening one of his friend’s throat at the base. Kato had been with him through the ups and downs.
Kato’s voice broke through the fog of memories, “Please Jack, I don’t want to be alone. You have to do this for me.”
He had been by his side for everything he had been through and Jack tried to be by his side when Kato’s mental state started to decline. He tried to stay and listen when his talk of suicide became more detailed, darker. It was now something more than a passing fancy, it was something real and desired. It was a pretty noose that he kept pulling tighter and tighter around both of their necks.
Jack approached the bed and tried to talk, but found it difficult as his eyes had already started to water up and his lips had already begun to quiver. Kato spoke first. He knew what was coming, “Don’t-” Jack sank to his knees and began to weep. His hand reached up on the bed and grasped Kato’s hand in his.
Jack spoke through choking sobs, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you! I’m sorry that this happened.”
He pressed Kato’s hand to his face and nuzzled it. He didn’t care about the mess, he wanted to be close to him one last time. There was no warmth to be felt in his tenderness.
Jack croaked, “I’m sorry that I can’t do this for you.” He had done it while he was asleep. He turned the hand over and planted a kiss where the wrist intersected with the palm. He had cut so deep and probably bled out in minutes. Jack spoke, “I’m sorry I can’t join you.”
The corpse spoke, Jack knew he was dead, but that didn’t make it any less real, “You bastard! You are abandoning me. When I need you the most, you are leaving me. I need you here by my side. I need you to embrace the end with me. You are leaving me.”
Jack snapped, he didn’t care who heard him shouting, “No, you abandoned me! You couldn’t face the end and so you fled from it. Did you expect that what we did last night would be an adequate goodbye? I thought we were making up, making love like we used to! I thought we were getting better. Now you’re gone, and I can’t stay here with the reminder of what you used to be taunting me.”
Jack stood up and the voice of his lover screamed, “Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me! Don’t-”
Jack Robicheaux left the corpse of Kato behind in the bedroom. There was nothing left in the house for him. Jack knew that he had cracked, hearing the disembodied voice of his lover screaming after him, but he was past the point of caring. He stepped out onto his porch and faced the day. The sky was now almost completely black. He knew it was just his imagination, but he felt like it was pulling him towards the sky. Chances were when the end did come he wouldn’t even be aware of it. There would be a sudden moment of shock and then it would be over, like a bullet to the throat.
Jack walked out into the street and ignored the world raging around him. Kato’s voice had completely died out, but he sincerely doubted that it was gone for good. It would probably speak to him at the very end. It would probably screech at him from oblivion damning him for not greeting the end together, but that was on Kato and not Jack.
He spoke aloud once again, “You could have stayed with me. We could have seen the end together. We could have held each other as the darkness grew around us. You’re going to miss all of it, because you gave up. I am not going to do the same.”
Jack continued to walk as the sky grew darker around him. He didn’t have much time left, but in the time he did have, he would try to live.
Room a Thousand Years Wide
Valerie stumbled towards the sink and cranked the water on full. She tried to stick her entire arm under the faucet, but the sink was too small. She rubbed at the red staining her arms, but it clung to her, mocking her with its resilience. The water slowly rose in temperature to the point that it stung her skin and turned it slightly red. No matter how hard she scrubbed, the blood would not wash off.
She mumbled, “Jesus, how did it come to this? I just wanted him to apologize. I didn’t want to hurt him.”
It was true; she had gone to her boss’ house to confront him. She had kept what had happened between them quiet for too long. She needed resolution even if it was an ephemeral one before they were all swallowed up by that looming blackness in the sky. She knew he was single and lived by himself. He wouldn’t have left for anywhere else. She just needed to hear those simple words.
He had not said those words when he pressed himself against her one night when he got her alone at an office party. She didn’t feel that way about him. She struggled against him as she felt him grind against her. She smelled the liquor on his breath. It was cloying. She eventually managed to wriggle away from his rough and wandering hands and beat a hasty retreat.
Valerie expected him to bring it up and apologize for his lechery once sobriety settled in the next morning. He didn’t. He never mentioned it again. Even though it had happened years ago, it still gnawed away at her. In their current situation, she decided that she had to have some form of resolution. That was what she was hoping for when she went to his house.
He was hoping for something else.
He wasn’t willing to take no for an answer this time. He offered her a glass of wine, but she declined. She just wanted to hear those words, that apology. She wasn’t expecting a repeat performance so when he hiked up her skirt and pressed his waist against hers, she was too shocked to move.
The shock soon dissolved into disgust and then an all-encompassing rage. As he licked at the nape of her neck, Valerie seized the wine bottle, whirled around and struck him across the face. She had expected the bottle to smash, but it didn’t. Instead it connected with his face with a heavy sounding “Thunk!" He pitched backwards onto the floor. Valerie was about to apologize when she saw him rubbing at his face, but then he spoke those words: “You fucking cock-tease!” and she lost it.
She raised the bottle over her head and brought it down with all her strength into his shoulder. The first blow caught him off-guard. Her boss tried to raise his hand up to shield his face, but the bottle shattered his hand at the wrist. The next strike broke his nose and the one after that knocked a few teeth loose. Valerie was lost in the squall of her assault and when she was finally exhausted, she found herself standing over the barely-recognizable form of her boss. His boyish good looks had been reduced to a disjointed and bloody mess.
Now he was dead.
She scrubbed at herself in the scalding hot water of the sink, until the last of the gore washed off of her arms. She felt like she should be crying, she felt like she should be sick, but she didn’t feel either of those things. There was only one sensation left in her. Much like the water, it was scalding hot and it blasted all other thoughts out of her mind.
It felt good.
Valerie knew that that thought should be the furthest thing from her mind right now, but it persisted. It felt good to beat him until his face was nothing but a red splotch on the ground. She relived the scene in her memory and let it set her heart racing. She kept re-hashing, but there was something new amongst the buzzing and brutal memory. A new thought.
"More. I want more."
It was too late to try and cast it away. The thought had sunk its claws into her brain and refused to be torn away. The world was circling the drain, who cared if a few people went before everything could be swallowed whole? Names flashed through her brain and began to form a list. People she had disagreed with, who had perpetrated imaginary sleights against her, her teenage daughter.
What happened today begat tomorrow and what happened tomorrow begat tomorrow. Tomorrow begat tomorrow. Above her the black stain in the sky slowly began to grow as if feeding off of her spiral into madness. Valerie had only a little time left and she was going to do what she had always wanted. The darkness swallowed her and she was lost to it.
Tyler Cobb slowly wheeled his wheelchair towards the door. He moved slowly and every exertion made his muscles cry out in protest. He had been wheel-chair bound for five years now. Tyler was alone in his small house. His family was gone, they lived hundreds of miles away and he doubted they would be heading his way. His hospice caretaker had left him to fend for himself. He opened the door to reveal a weathered old man.
Tyler spoke with a grin playing across his thin lips, “Good evening officer. What brings you here?”
Sammy Crawford looked at the wheelchair-bound man and said, “I think you know why I’m here. Do you live alone here?”
“I had a care-taker, she came in today and told me that she wouldn’t be coming back. She said that she was taking the express route out of here. I always spotted her reading Sylvia Plath when she was here. Let’s hope she realized that Plath used a gas stove to kill herself and not an electric.” He laughed; it was without mirth, humor, or good spirits. It was a wry and desiccated sound. The retired officer did not join in.
“I know why you’re here. It’s the unsolved case. Trying to tie up some of your loose ends?” the wheelchair-bound man wheezed and continued, “You can question me all you want, but my story is the same as it was over two decades ago. You know it and I know it. I did not rape that girl.” Sammy looked at the man and remembered how he looked in the interrogation room over twenty years ago.
Ty Cobb was cocky then and he was cocky now. He looked the detective in the eye as if daring him to strike him and lose any moral superiority he had. Sammy hoped that this arrogance would be his downfall. He knew that it most likely wouldn’t be, that he would have to outsmart him instead. If that failed, he had other methods.
“Law doesn’t hold much water now-a-days. Seems like our impending doom has caused us to re-evaluate our priorities. Why waste your time following cold trails of a case that died with that poor girl?”
“Because I know you did it. I know you raped that girl.”
“DNA was inconclusive. It wasn’t an exact science like it is now. All it took back then was a sloppy technician who was late for a date to screw up the entire process. You were spotted in the area nearby, you had no alibi for your whereabouts, and the girl was too frightened to testify, much less even look at you. You were the only suspect and to this day, all leads still point at you being the culprit.”
“Ain’t there a statute of limitations on this sort of thing? Jesus, that was over two decades ago! It’s a cold case now. Let it go already.”
Sammy felt his hand slide down to his badge, “Statute of limitations no longer apply here. Right here, right now, I am going to solve this case. Anyway, I no longer consider it only a rape case; it’s a murder.”
“The poor thing killed herself if I recall.”
“She did, after she received a single rose on her doorstep.”
“A threat - from you.”
“Why would I threaten the poor girl?”
“Because you didn’t want her to testify, you attempted to scare her into silence, but in her already traumatized state, the rose pushed her over the edge.”
“What kind of monster would do something like that?”
“I think you know the kind Ty.”
“Sam, I don’t understand why you’d think that after all these years that you’d be able to solve this case. Even if you had the right guy, which you don’t; why would he confess after all these years just because you’re asking?”
Sammy blew out a breath, unclipped his badge and tossed it onto a nearby table, “Because I’m not asking.” There wasn’t enough time to dance around and hoped he slipped up in his testimony.
The first punch knocked Ty over, as he scrambled towards his turned over chair; Sam grabbed his leg and dragged him back. The wheelchair-bound man clawed the grout for purchase, but that was torn away from him along with a few of his fingernails. He wasn’t going to get away that easily. Sam had waited too long for this moment to let him wriggle away.
Sammy rained down punches on him, focusing on his core, trying to maximize pain without disorienting him. His boot cracked his rib and a quick right to his solar plexus left him gasping for air. All the while, he snarled at the man to confess and admit what he had done all those years ago. Nothing he confessed would hold up in court, but that didn’t matter anymore.
Ty tried to protect himself, but time had left him debilitated and defenseless. Sammy was no spring chicken himself, but his years on the force had kept him in relatively good shape. Another right hook jabbed him just below the ribs and caused the old suspect to regurgitate. The cop stepped away in disgust to prevent anymore of it from splashing on him. When he was done, he stepped back in to met out more, but the brutalized man had had enough.
Ty screamed, “I did it! I raped her.” Sammy sank down and listened as the words poured out of the man. “She was so trusting. She never locked her door at night; she didn’t feel the need to. She didn’t think there were men like me in the world. It was a hot summer night when I snuck into her house. She was wearing this little white slip in an attempt to combat the heat-”
That was enough for Sammy Crawford. He stood up, not wanting to hear the details. The truth was what he had wanted after all these years; something to lie on her grave, something to bring her some peace. The thought rang hollow in his head. In the end, he wasn’t sure if all this was for her or him. The thought disgusted him. He wanted nothing more than to leave this monster’s house, but as he turned to leave, Ty Cobb stopped him.
He wheezed, “What happens now? Do you take me in? Do you take me out? At this point, I don’t care either way. The world’s gone to shit, can’t say I want to stick around to see how it all ends.”
Sam blew out a breath and said, “Nothing happens. Who would care back at the precinct about a decades old case? Who would care if I beat you to death right now? To be honest, you’re not even worth the effort.”
Sammy walked towards the door and Ty croaked out, “Don’t leave me! I don’t want to face this alone. I-I don’t want to die alone.”
The old cop stepped towards the badge to pick it back up, but decided against it. He had traded it, thrown it away. He felt lighter with it off. He moved towards the door and opened it. The old criminal pled once more, “Don’t. Please, I don’t want to die by myself.”
“You and I both know that none of us has ever been truly alone. That girl has been with me, weighing on me for all these years. You’re not alone; you’ve got the company you deserve. I hope you spend your last moments thinking of her, thinking of the horrible things you did to her.” He walked out and shut the door behind him. Behind him, he could hear Ty Cobb weeping to himself. Whether he was weeping for her or himself didn’t really matter.
Sammy Crawford craned his neck up towards the sky. He had nothing left. He felt as hollow and empty at that thing in the sky. He was sore and his chest felt like he was breathing smoke and ashes from his exertion. His body was like a rusty cage that was moments away from breaking apart. He knew it would carry him through to the end and that thought scared him. The massive hole in the sky was growing and he could almost feel it pulling him up into its maw. It was not a pleasant thought. He knew his time was at its end and he had no regrets.
Burden in my Hand
No staring at the clouds,
I must stay on the ground.
I must be pure and true.
I must contain my views. ~ Chris Cornell "Boot Camp”
The church was empty. Daniela really didn’t expect anything less from the congregation she once knew. She considered herself a lapsed Catholic and treated it like an alcoholic would with a bottle of whiskey. She avoided it. She knew that she could relapse and fall back into the habit at any moment. It made her worse, made her hate herself. Even now, she wanted nothing more than to turn around and walk out through the vestibule. However, something pushed her forward. She didn’t want to die without saying one last thing.
The pews were empty and Daniela was almost certain that if she went into the sacristy, she would find the preacher passed out after having downed all the communion wine. She remembered a sermon a few years ago where he railed against the dangers of drink. She knew that someone doesn’t talk that passionately about something without having some skeletons in their closet. It didn’t matter though. She wasn’t here for the preacher; she was here for God Himself.
She stood before the altar and genuflected while making the sign of the cross. There were some old habits that would follow her to the end. She hadn’t been in a church for over five years after being told that she was no longer welcome in this one, but the muscle memory of her time spent here as a teenager was still a part of her. It was an automatic reaction that was ingrained in her.
Daniela stood up and began, “I’m sorry to barge in unannounced like this. I doubt you’ll care, I doubt you’re still here. I need to talk, one last time.” She paced back-and-forth between the marble altar, casting sideways glances at the crucified Christ. It always unnerved her, seeing his form splayed out on the cross with nails through his hands and feet.
“You bastard.” The words started off as something small; it was barely a whisper, but speaking those words aloud gave her the strength to keep going. “Why would You do this to me? I loved You; I worshiped You. I-I lost it all. You took it all.” Her hands clenched into fists and the words tumbled out of her like rocks falling in avalanche.
“Love thy neighbor?! We’re all God’s children?! Sure, unless you’re different from the rest of the flock, and then you’re a pariah; all because you love differently? What a crock of shit! The great all-loving faggot-hater, the dyke despiser!” Daniela grabbed a missal from the pew and hurled it at the statue. The book struck the plaster and chipped away the paint, revealing the whiteness and nothingness beneath.
Daniela continued, “You made me this way, because of You I lost my family. You know my father’s last words to me? ‘You’re no daughter of mine.’ They won’t even talk to me now. I don’t even exist to them anymore. You know what happened when I tried to call them last? They hung up on me as soon as they recognized my voice.”
Daniela had come out to her family when she was nineteen. She had tried keeping it a secret, but she couldn’t anymore. Back then she treated her attraction to the same sex as an aberration, something to be ashamed of. It was easy to think that way when you were raised that way. It was easy when there wasn’t anyone in her love life, but that had changed when she was in her first year at college. It was there that she met Ruth.
Ruth had a way about her that made everything seem right. Even on Daniela’s worst days, she could still make her smile. She considered Ruth to be her best friend, it wasn’t until months later that they became more than friends. They had spent one late night watching cheesy movies and poking fun of them. It was in-between laughs that Daniela stole their first kiss.
She hadn’t meant to do it; she didn’t even know if her friend felt the same way, it was just in the moment and, perfect. From then on, they did everything together. They had even gone to each other’s houses to come out to their parents. Ruth’s parents were supportive; they had hugged and told her they loved her. It had gone much differently when Daniela brought her girlfriend home to tell the truth to her parents.
Daniela buried that painful memory and instead tried to focus on her righteous indignation. It didn’t work. She had learned long ago that trying to bury it never worked. It always unearthed itself and demanded that it be addressed, that it be felt, that it be mourned. She surrendered herself to those painful memories.
She remembered her father tearing apart the house like a rampaging bull. He seethed and shouted while knocking over chairs and tables. Ruth shied away from him as if worried that he might strike her. Daniela, on the other hand, had been shocked. She watched paralyzed as he rampaged throughout the house. She could only watch as her words whipped him into rage.
Her mother had started weeping. For some reason, it brought her comfort. It was like seeing her tears at the horribleness of his reaction was a balm of sorts. It wasn’t until she realized that the tears weren’t due to her husband’s explosive reaction, but in response to her admission of her sexuality. She was weeping for her. That pierced her deeper than the lance of Longinus.
It didn’t end there. Her confession sent shockwaves throughout her family and friends. Neighbors tried not to make eye contact with her. Family friends avoided her like the plague. The worst part was going to church. Daniela had gone to church on Saturday to avoid running into her parents. The congregation stared, she heard them whispering in the pews. The priest refused to even acknowledge her at the end of the service. She was not welcome.
She croaked through the tears that veiled her eyes, “There must be something else, there must be something good. Far away, far away from here. This can’t be it, this can’t be everything there is.” She wept for a few minutes. She cried for herself, she cried for the others. Everything was ending and in the end all she could think about was her mother crying for her. Her faith had turned her against her own daughter and Daniela’s own faith had left her weary. She hated herself and didn’t understand why. She was born this way, why should she feel this way?
Daniela gathered up all her strength and blew it out in a single breath. She knew the next part was not going to be easy. She had spent years with her hate as kindling. It kept her going, kept her strong. “But that’s not why I’m here. I spent years seething at You. I spent my adult life hating You for making me like this. For making me suffer. It’s a burden in my hand that I need to let go of. I’m tired of it. It’s weighing me down.”
It had to be done. She didn’t want to die with this burden. She needed to find a release. She had to say what she had always wanted to say.
“I forgive You. Despite everything, despite the alienation and the hate, I’ve met a lot of good people too. I met a wonderful woman who I loved sharing my life with. Is it really that wrong to love someone? I’m not changing; I’m not repenting. I am Catholic, and I am gay. There’s nothing wrong with me, there never was. It’s time I accepted that, and it’s time You did the same.”
Daniela turned away from the altar. She had nothing more to say. She had said her peace. She left the church and stepped out into the street. That was her final loose end. She wanted nothing more than to be home now, home with Ruth. It was the only home she had, and it was the only one she needed. Her family would likely never accept her and that was their loss.
Chaos reigned supreme in the streets. People were looting, rioting, and committing various acts of debauchery. She was glad she had talked Ruth out of going to the church with her. One part of her reason was that this was a final communion with God before the end of it all and she couldn’t say what she needed to say with her there. The second was that it was a regular Sodom and Gomorrah on the streets. She wanted to keep her from seeing that insanity.
Daniela paused to look up at the cause of all of this. The blackness was now enveloping the sky like a burial shroud. She wished she hadn’t looked up. Maybe then, the end would have come as a surprise to her. Now it was too late. It was too late to say one final prayer. It was too late to go home to Ruth and hold her one last time. It was time.
She felt a sudden lightlessness as she began to float off the ground. Everything around her did the same. Some wailed in horror, most just sighed. It was the end. Daniela just closed her eyes and thought of Ruth one last time. Her hair, her eyes, and the way her lips felt as they traveled up her neck planting tiny kisses. She knew that if she opened her eyes, she would be face-to-face with the end, the planet killer, and the people annihilator. She kept her eyes closed and spent her last moments thinking of Ruth.
Daniela had always wondered how it would feel to die. In the end, it felt like she was ascending and that was fine by her.
Written by EmpyrealInvective