Jonathan was out on his front porch swing, engrossed in another vampire book, when he gave a shiver and, looking up, caught his neighbor’s dark eye. Willy was across the street, standing on his own front porch. ‘Okay if I come over?’ he called apologetically.
Everyone has played watching games. I’d taken it a step further. I played dead games. I visited cemeteries and I gave five of the dead my thoughts on their life.
I don’t know when my game changed. I wasn’t making up the stories anymore. I’m not exactly sure when the visions changed from imagination.
…They had no input from me.
The end of the world wasn’t so bad. It began with an argument between some self-important people who had a bit too much responsibility. It escalated. The end of the world was loud and hot and bright. Most people dried almost instantly to a pink Himilyan salt, their crystals scattered to the wind. Some took longer, their skin blackened like the crust of a wood fired pizza. Still, some survived, parts of their limbs and flesh melted like a mild gruyere cheese. No, all this was not so bad. It was the lack of good food.
Rata and Jack made their way down the slimy wooden gangplank set haphazardly into the shittier sections of the road, sections where feet and scooter tires would sink into sludge.
I hate that eleventh step. It’s the darkest one. It always has been. I remember noticing it when I was around twelve years old but I couldn’t say anything, not to my parents.
I blamed them. I thought when they died it would leave me alone. It didn’t.
I’ve suffered that step for forty years now. But I don’t think I’ll need to for much longer.
The only light in the room came from the green numbers displayed on the digital clock by the bedside table. The numbers 3:47 were barely enough to cast a pallid blanket over the nose and forehead of the man sleeping on the bed. The only sound came from his breathing, which accompanied by the slow rising and falling of his chest under the blanket, also provided the only movement in the room. The girl lying next to him was silent and still; her thick black strands of hair spread across the pillow, stretching out towards him. Heavy curtains not only blocked out the orange glow of the city outside, but kept the room undisturbed from the sharp gliding sounds of taxis and the occasional drunken black car against the wet asphalt. The numbers on the digital clock clicked to 3:48. The man slowly sat up, as if he had responded to the ever so slight change in the room. He had been staring at the ceiling, and no longer finding it of any interest, now found himself searching the dark square outlines of the furniture scattered around. Soundlessly, he got up and moved towards the window where he pulled the curtains back to let in the glow of the streetlamp. He should have gone back to the ceiling, but instead turned the handle and stepped out of the cold air-conditioned room, on to the balcony. It wasn’t very high up, but he could see a fair amount of the city. The monstrous skyscrapers loomed over him in the pathetic menace of their palely lit and empty offices, and the great condominium buildings in the distance faded sadly in the background – their inhabitants had long since switched off the lights. He felt his naked body drenched in the humid air, and was suddenly aware of the thousands of windows, the bright and blind eyes taking in the sight of him. But the street was empty below, and the man seemed to exist only in the blind spot of life, and of all that was still awake at this time of night. He lit a cigarette, meaning to savor the quiet and watch the way the purple sky swelled up with each passing minute. He only took a few drags though, before deciding it was too hot, and going back inside.
The shuffling line stretches out before Maurice and Estelle.
“Walmart on Black Friday,” Maurice quips. His face is red with effort and a drop of sweat is stranded in unfamiliar territory on the tip of his nose.
“Step right up step right over, behind this curtain is the most fascinating farm animal you’ve ever witnessed.”
I didn’t buy it. Every carnie on the fairgrounds regurgitated that same hook, pointing around with their canes and blinding us with their red striped suits.
Here! Follow my voice! Over here, I say! For God’s sake, man, come over to the fire. What in heaven’s name are you doing, out in such a storm? Come and warm yourself before you freeze where you stand. There, it is only a whistling nook amidst the snow and the cruel wind, but it affords us some small respite and the luxury of civilised conversation. Here we will wait for a break in the weather. I would share with you a morsel, but I have none. Rest and talk must serve as our sustenance. I note that you are hardly dressed for being so deep in the mountains. A light jacket? Such flimsy trousers? I know I must look a fright, unkempt and unshaven, but I am something of an exception. Those who linger in these hills generally know the value of good boots and a winter coat.
Near where I grew up there’s an abandoned quarry. For over a century bluestone was mined there. A deep open pit cut into the earth; steep walls of dark basalt criss-crossed by fine veins of quartz, caverns and sink holes and shelves of hard rock. Forty years ago the quarry stopped being profitable, so the mine owners turned off the pumps, removed the equipment that still worked, and let the ground water rise. Within a few months the quarry had turned into a lake. The rising tide submerged the void, and what was left behind was forgotten and drowned beneath the surface. The mining company planted some trees, put up a few picnic tables and walked away. Because of the height of the quarry walls on one side, the lake stood sheltered from the wind that whipped over the land, the skin of the water still and inviting, a dark blue pearl in an amphitheatre of stone.