• • •
The Before is Gone
He can see them looking at him. They do not have bodies, only ink black shadows. They do not have faces, only piercing white eyes. No irises nor pupils, just the whites, and they’re not even white – they’re luminescent. They’re glowing.
To catch him? Are they trying to save him? No, it’s too late. He’s falling too fast, fallen too far.
They get smaller as he falls down and down and down, but they don’t stop watching him. Nor do their eyes get smaller, nor dimmer. Their eyes stay the same, twelve orbs of burning white floating above him as he plummets through the darkness and into… and into whatever comes next. The before is gone and the now is fleeting, but there is always whatever comes next.
They’re one light now, they’ve merged into a 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… yet he can feel them watching him. He can feel their smiles. He can feel their laught
The apartment isn’t very clean. The room isn’t very spacious. The views aren’t very spectacular. It’s not a great place to live, but this is the ‘man’s home. He doesn’t like it, but he will respect it.
He’ll respect it enough, at least. It’s not like he’s going to live here forever. He’s not going to break his back trying to keep the place spotless, nor will he repair every little thing that falls into disarray. The big stuff yes, like this 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 wooden card table? The scratches in the paint on the wall? The old clothes on the floor, the lightly used dishes on the kitchen counter, the little holes in the couch where the stuffing poofs out? Nah. Small shit like that doesn’t require the attention, it can be overlooked. Life’s too short, ‘man, especially in the here and now. That we’re here for a good time is questionable at best; that we’re here for not a long one is null short of truth. He expects his end to come any moment now, as a matter of fact. The end comes fast for those who cannot recall their own names.
“My hea–” he says, then stops to look frantically around the room with eyes as wide as dinner plates. There’s nobody here, it’s just him in this ratty little nest. “My head is pounding. Am I losing my mind? I was startled by my own voice just now, and I’m talking to myself. Who am I? What on Earth happened, why is everything so quiet?”
He scoots himself backwards and out of the rocking chair, then rolls over and stands up. His balance is a bit wobbly, but he doesn’t fall back over. The state of his room perplexes him – the curtains are drawn, yet the room is brightly lit. How could the sun get into the room if the curtains block the windows?
Then he looks up. “Oh. The lights’re on. 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 way, perhaps. Regardless, nothing to be mad at. “At least it’s working.”
He stands there staring at the lightbulb for a few minutes, rubbing his head all the while, seemingly entranced.
“How are the lights working?”
The lightbulb doesn’t answer him, it only keeps glowing.
“Oh yeah, electricity.”
The light is beginning to be too much for him to deal with. He looks away from it and down at the card table. It’s covered in playing cards set up for solitaire. The cards all have writing on them. Writing in the center and the number 52 in a red circle with a black ring around it in the top right corners. He picks up a random card and reads it.
“In ninteen’seventy-four, Kerry said Democrats push health care too much. But in Twenty-o’three, Kerry says Expanding coverage is my passion.” He sniffs. “Who the hell is Kerry ?”
The card flutters to the table and lands face-down next to the box. The back shows that same 52 emblem, 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 – and on the back there are a series of shiny markings. Seems to be writing. Looks sloppy. Looks like it was done with a small paintbrush dipped in silver nail polish. Looking at it makes the headache worse, but he forces himself to read it anyway. He 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’m John, though. John Kerry.” He looks around the room and feels, for the first time since waking, the brute unfamiliarity of it all. “Maybe this was John’s house.”
A few silent moments pass. He stares at the messy game of solitaire. “Maybe I should leave now. Could always come back… could always find a new place, too. Anything could be out there. No way to know until I get moving.”
The moments pass on and on. John packs up the cards.
Time to Go
John loaded his backpack with the few canned and otherwise preserved foods 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 was miraculously fresh and it tasted divine, but it wasn’t much. He found some jugs of water too, strapped them onto his backpack to save room on the inside. The fuel tank is… well, the waste tank is empty. The lights are all turned off in the house.
“I suppose it’s time to go,” John tells himself, whether his name is John or not. It doesn’t really matter. Nobody’s going to question him on it.
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, he makes his move.
The door opens to an eviscerated world. The roads are gone, the asphalt buried beneath feet of ash; the forest is burned, the trees dark towers of char; the sky is glowing, the clouds gray to the point of ubiquity; the air is breathable, though it scratches his lung’… but it can’t all be like this. Maybe there’s a compound somewhere, maybe there are survivors. Maybe John Kerry isn’t the only man to live through Armageddon.
Or… maybe there was no Armageddon. Maybe this is just a backwoods town that got caught up in a forest fire. Maybe I was just passing through and I found a place to squat down for the night.’
How the moments do pass.
‘Or maybe I set the fire. No way to know for sure.”
There is a way to find out, though. Maybe.
Pack on his back, John gets a’walkin’.
This has been the first story from Highdeas: The Lost Stories from the Seven Earths, a flash fiction anthology hidden in the back of the book Over the River: The Emancipation of Jonathan Knox. Here is everything you need to know about it:
Over the River
The Emancipation of Jonathan Knox
Over the River is the third book in a trilogy called The Fall of the Seven Earths. I’ve also released that trilogy as a single book called The Fall of the Seven Earths. Here’s everything you need to know about it:
The Fall of the Seven Earths
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
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If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~