New Star in the Sky
A lit match streaked toward Earth. For nearly two years, an alphabet soup of acronym named government agencies were aware of its trajectory. Math was verified by billboard size equations at NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Cal Tech, MIT, Stanford, and a handful of Ivy League schools. Attacking the meteor with black book military deep space anti-aircraft weapons failed. Joint efforts with Chinese and Russian space programs to stop the meteor didn't have any luck, either. Speaking from behind the Oval Office desk, the President revealed the meteor's existence in a solemn broadcast that concluded with a carefully chosen scripture verse. The President urged the entire world to unite in peace and harmony. She practically told six billion people to finish up strong. Earth was put on a week's notice.
Sergio took hearing about the end of the world well. "Damn, this sucks," he nearly laughed, lighting up a joint. "I really would've preferred an earthquake," Sergio said, blowing smoke toward the open window. He handed the joint to his roommate Leo and leaned forward on the couch. Sergio stared at the President's life-sized lips on the big screen, focused on each pixel outlining the apocalypse. They got quiet and just listened for a minute before either spoke again.
"Earthquakes just happen, unexpectedly," Leo sighed. "Like, boom, shaking, L.A. sinks into the ocean, it's over. This is way different. This is fucked, man."
"Yeah, man, this is so much worse than an earthquake," Sergio agreed.
"Having a warning like this means we get time to think about how meaningless this has all been—was—is—whatever. This lets us have dread. That's fucked. I hate dread."
"Guess all the religious nuts are getting what they always wanted," Leo observed. "God's bowling ball is rolling this way—"
"—And it's a strike," Sergio said flatly.
"It's what they always dreamed of," Leo said venting emerald smoke rings. "People have always wanted the world to end in their lifetime. There's literally no better way to make us feel special."
"Goodnight and God bless us all," the President signed off before releasing control of the airwaves. The network news logo replaced the President's seal on the screen, dissolving to reveal a distraught looking news anchor who straightened a stack of sky blue paper leafs and coughed. He faced the camera and couldn't speak.
"What are we gonna do?" Sergio asked.
At that moment, Leo's phone vibrated on the coffee table. He handed the joint back to Sergio, picked up the phone and took it toward his room. "Yeah, I heard," Leo said closing the door behind him. Sergio returned his attention back to the television, sucking on the joint and waiting for anyone in the doomed planet to call.
Shelly was celebrating her favorite West Hollywood bar's drag night with her roommate, who went by the name Mary Hamburger when daily made up in wig and heels. Televisions strategically placed around the bar were all ironically turned to ESPN. When the President appeared at the Oval Office desk, hissing got everyone quiet.
Someone in control of the soundtrack turned off the Rhianna song grinding on every taut body in the room.
"Our joint effort with the governments of China and Russia to destroy the meteor currently on course to strike the Earth has unfortunately failed," the President shared, trying not to sound defeated. "The meteor," she went on, "is set to strike the West Coast of the United States in one week's time. The damage will be catastrophic."
Anything the President said after was swallowed by the reaction of nearly a hundred drag queens, their female friends, men who bought both drinks, and night-time tourists from the Valley who came down to gawk. Mary Hamburger reached over the scuffed mahogany bar and grabbed a genie shaped purple bottle. "The end of the world requires a fucking drink," she said into Shelly's ear. Mary Hamburger poured each a half glass.
"God, I don't want to die at the same time as all these assholes," Shelly said, raising her voice to be heard over the commotion. "And I'm not going to. I have a gun. I'm going to go back to the apartment and blow my brains out. Fuck this."
"Don't talk like that," Mary Hamburger replied before taking a shot and slamming the empty glass on the bar. "And why do you have a gun? Where did—you know what? Nevermind," Mary Hamburger relented, putting up her hands. "Fuck this. Someone here is sucking my dick to-night," Mary Hamburger announced.
"Lady, everybody here should suck your dick tonight," Shelly smiled.
Shelly went outside to call her mother. She lit a joint and scrolled through numbers while blowing smoke at her cell phone's face. Gunshots popped far off and cars jamming Santa Monica Blvd. bleated honks. Shelly sighed and rolled her eyes at the noise.
"Mom, did you hear?" Shelly shifted back and forth on her feet while nursing on the joint. A trio of drunken men synced into skin-tight black latex drag entering the club yelled Christmas wishes into Shelly's phone. "No one. Just some people on the sidewalk who probably don't know what's happening. Or maybe they do."
Leo emerged from his bedroom with two packed suitcases and drove to his mom's house in Riverside. He hugged Sergio goodbye with a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. With the apartment to himself forever, Sergio took a bath with the door open and the TV loud enough to still hear it with the water running. Sergio soaked for two hours, listening to planetary scientists and astrophysicists describe how painless the extinction process would be. Each time the bathwater evaporated shallow enough to expose Sergio's hairless knees; he'd start up the tap again.
Mary Hamburger pulled her key out of the apartment lock and called out, "Why do you have a gun?" over the sound of the television news. In the kitchen, they hugged hello and Mary Hamburger kicked platform heels off while employing a tarantula sized hand on Shelly's shoulder for support.
"Mom gave it to me when I moved up here,” Shelly answered through a mouthful of ice cream.
"Did she think you were moving to Detroit? Jesus, you moved to Glendale. And you're white."
"And you're the girl home at midnight. Guess no dick sucking tonight," Shelly said, changing the subject.
"That's none of your business," Mary Hamburger said, opening the refrigerator door.
"Whore," Shelly murmured, spooning more rocky road ice cream straight from the carton to her mouth.
Mary Hamburger tugged the last two slices of pizza apart and bit into last night's extra cheese. "Are you afraid?" she asked, chewing.
"Of what? The end of the world? Dying?"
Mary Hamburger nodded.
"No, I don't think so," Shelly answered. She leaned against the refrigerator and spooned more ice cream into her mouth. "I think I'm kinda glad. Like relieved. Fuck, that's not healthy, right?"
"It's probably the most healthy reaction."
"It's still early. What do you want to do tonight?” Shelly asked.
They went up to their apartment building's roof. Purple midnight was inked above. They tried to pick out which of the dozen sparks flickering in the sky strong enough to break though the light pollution Los Angeles glowed was the star coming to kill them. When they went to sleep, they slept in the same bed for the first time since they were children.
Looting started almost immediately. The National Guard barricaded the city’s Westside, from Wilshire Country Club to the beach, containing the anarchy until the Army and Marines arrived. Helicopters wheeled above Los Angeles, broadcasting a parade of tanks tailgating down Pico Blvd. Police in riot gear took careful steps behind them like fish traveling with whales for safety. Around midnight, Sergio fell asleep watching news coverage of people emptying stores and firing guns into the air with his arm around a pint of Neapolitan ice cream. They spent his entire Sunday switching his attention between news on the flat screen TV and Internet porn, not bothering at all to put on pants.
Sergio went to work Monday morning. The apocalypse didn't make L.A. traffic any better. Sergio maneuvered around cars abandoned on the freeway picked cleaner than chicken bones down to just their skeleton frames before getting torched. At the office, scattered cubicles were filled by all the people who kept their ears plugged with headphones from 9 to 5. Sergio's boss strode into office just before noon, loudly clapping his hands to get everyone's attention for an impromptu staff meeting. The boss put out a cigarette on the recently installed gun metal grey carpet and told a semi-circle of office misfits to go home and do something with the rest of their short lives. He liberally peppered his words with the question, "Why are you people even here?"
"What do you wanna do today?" Shelly asked before really waking up.
"Drugs. Mainly drugs," Mary Hamburger answered. She was sitting up in bed rolling a joint, her shoulders taking up half the headboard, loosening her negligee's spaghetti straps.
"I feel like we should go see Mom today," Shelly yawned.
"Nope. Not happening," Mary Hamburger smiled.
"Why? It's in the end of the world," Shelly turned onto her side to say.
"That's exactly why."
"The damage will be catastrophic," Shelly paused for dramatic effect before saying, "to my liver," turning the bottle of over in her hand to read the back label. "Yeah, I'm taking this one, too," she said over her shoulder. "Merry Christmas to me," Shelly murmured. She ran a finger along where the overlapping ends of the wine label were glued atop each other like the spine of a book she decided not to open. She placed the bottle in a suitcase next to the others she'd already chosen.
"Wow. I just realized something: everyone is dead. Like really dead. No one has a future. We're at a moment of time, right now, like, right fucking now, where you can speak about every person who has ever lived in past-tense. That's amazing. You can't say, 'Well, Stacy has a bright future, she's a clever girl.' Or, 'Brad is an asshole. I hope he matures and grows into an upstanding young man,'" Shelly said, using her bass voice to act out her lines. "There is no future. The person who bottled this is dead. The grape farmer is dead. The grape picker is dead. The guys who worked at the winery are dead. The guy who bottled this is dead. The guy that shipped it is dead. The guy that paid way too much to buy an old ass bottle of wine is dead. But, he's been gone for a while, so you know," Shelly shrugged. "You're dead. My
sister, if you care, is dead."
"Yes, yes, and you're dead," Shelly's mother finished the thought's progression. "So, this is your big plan: drink all Dads’ wine?"
"Please. If Dad were still alive, he'd be on the floor by now, drunk off his ass."
"Stop it, Shelly."
"You know, this meteor is a blessing, really. We're all going to walk with the Lord at once: you, me, your brother, everyone. We get to see your Dad. Together. How wonderful is that? It really is a very Merry Christmas this year. It's a Christmas miracle."
"Mom. Please," Shelly groaned.
"Sometimes, I wonder where I went wrong with you kids. I really, really wish you would come to the church with me to celebrate," her mom sighed.
"Was I a good parent?"
"Seriously? You're asking me this now?"
"Yes, Shelly, I am."
"You raised two kids by yourself after dad died. You never hit us; you never dated an asshole that abused us. Mary is the best person who ever lived, and the worst thing I've done since finding out the world going to end is raid a liquor cabinet in Costa Mesa. Sounds like a success to me."
"Doctor, where exactly is the meteor going to hit?" the news anchor asked stabbing his cigarette into a mound of ash built in the tray at his side. Half dozen yellowed filters he'd smoked over the past couple hours stuck out of the ash like porcupine quills.
"Original estimates were about a hundred miles off the coast of northern California," the Cal Tech astrophysicist answered. "We anticipated the meteor to splash down in the ocean west of San Francisco, but—"
"That's not what you're thinking now?"
"No," the astrophysicist said. "No, uh, the revised expectation is that, um, unfortunately, the meteor will strike land."
"Where?" the news anchor asked.
"Um, the central valley of California," the astrophysicist answered.
"The anticipated epicenter is Modesto, maybe a little west of there."
"What does this mean?"
"What do you mean?" the astrophysicist asked, furrowing his face.
"For us: L.A. What does it mean for people in Los Angeles?"
"Well, let me put it this way," the astrophysicist started. He balled his left hand into a fist and held it above his head. "Imagine this is the meteor," he said, bringing his fist slowly down toward his face. "Once the meteor enters our atmosphere, we'll all be momentarily enveloped, bathed even, in blinding white light. There'll be a bright, bright flash—imagine your eyeball up against ah, uh, a camera flash when it goes off," the astrophysicist explained, opening his fist a few inches from his nose to mimic a cosmically destructive shine. He put his right hand up to shield his face and said, "After the flash, the meteor, its tail—everything—will be completely visible for a few seconds before impact. It'll be amazing looking; a really, really big ball of light streaking, burning across the sky," the astrophysicist snorted from the scientific excitement of the event. "Even if the meteor breaks up, the biggest chunk will strike central California. So, to answer your question: if you're in L.A., or anywhere on the West Coast, really, and outside the house when it enters Earth atmosphere, visually, the meteor will look like it's coming directly for you."
"Jesus Christ, this is awful," the news anchor said lighting a fresh cigarette. "Of course, most of us in L.A. probably anticipated whatever cataclysmic event that would threaten to kill us all would be an earthquake, like in a disaster movie. We're all expecting 'The Big One,' or you know, the San Andreas—"
"Oh, there'll be earthquakes," the astrophysicist laughed reflexively.
"The impact responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs was caused by a meteor a little over a hundred miles in diameter. This meteor is estimated to be anywhere from six to eight, maybe nine hundred miles in diameter," the astrophysicist spread his arms wide to illustrate the meteor's width. "The meteor could possibly be almost half the size of the moon. The size of this thing is just amazing. Impact with an object this proportion should trigger a series of devastating, massive earthquakes, on both sides of the Pacific. These will, of course, cause tsunamis, volcanic reactions—you name it. We're talking bad in, uh, biblical proportions."
"Fuck," the news anchor murmured. "This is just awful. Really awful."
"Yeah," the astrophysicist agreed.
Sergio groaned sitting up on the couch. He picked his phone up off
the cluttered coffee table and checked to see if anyone had texted or emailed. Sergio put the phone down and changed the channel, flipping through variations of the same scene: news desk, anchor(s), scientific expert, large bold font chyron tattooed at the bottom of the screen constantly reminding viewers the planet was in its last days. Other networks broadcast images of rioting, bonfire oil fields, the candle-lit galaxy of bodies congregating at the foot of the Jesus statue in Rio, a raging impromptu Mardi Gras. Finally, Sergio landed on a live feed of a smiling Dalai Lama clasping his hands over thousands of freshly shaved heads bowed in Beijing's Forbidden City. Each skull resembled a glowing light bulb.
"What's your mother's plan for the Book of Revelations?" Mary Hamburger asked when Shelly returned home.
"Our mother. Man, the fucking world is ending. Can you two stop it?" Shelly snapped. She uncorked a bottle and smelled the wine before taking a drink. "She's going drive down to the big temple in La Jolla with all the other lemmings in Orange County. She wanted me to come with her."
"Did she invite me?"
"Not really," Shelly sighed. She took another long sip of a 1991 Napa Valley Cabernet that scorched her throat before sending its own cooling undertow of relief trailing down the same path. "She wanted my brother to be there. I kept telling her, 'I don't have a brother. Mary is your daughter.' And she, she just—" Shelly looked past Mary Hamburger's mosquito wing lashes to her muddy brown eyes and smiled. "We had a big ass fight, but I don't care. I really don't. I have you. You're my sister."
Sergio thawed and cooked all the meat in the freezer. He sat at the kitchen table and ate a tower of pork chops and bar-b-que chicken thighs he pulled the skin off and flicked into the sink. He rubbed greasy fingers dry on his pant leg and picked up his phone from beside the two liter Coke he was drinking straight from the bottle. He texted
"Isn't this all terrible? I miss you." to a number in his phone that wasn't assigned a name. Sergio cut open an Italian sausage and kept glancing over to his phone. Sergio sent the same number another text message. He flipped the phone over onto its sleeping face when he got up to throw bones out the window for any stray dogs.
West Hollywood hadn't slept since the end of the world was announced. After the looting, restaurant tables and chairs were pushed together with bus benches and scorched cars to form a berm to block traffic. Santa Monica Blvd. gave up all pretenses to become a 24-hour rave. Street artists converged to spray paint building faces and chalk sidewalk scenes that glowed in the dark. Extension cords ran from all the ransacked businesses out to power PA systems and lamps stripped to just shaft and bulb. Mary Hamburger dragged Shelly every night.
"Will you stay still so I can finish, please? Everyone is waiting for us."
"Why do you always put slutty lipstick on me?" Shelly asked.
"Shut up, slutty looks good on you," Mary Hamburger said, coloring inside the lines. "There, done. Was that so bad?"
Shelly examined herself in a hand mirror while Mary Hamburger poured them shots. "My face looks like it's on its period. You queens don't do subtle."
"What's the point of that?" Mary Hamburger smirked. "Now, c'mon. Let's go."
They drove at the same pace as walking, slurring around debris smoldering on Brand Blvd. The car crawled through flashing red light intersections. Each drank directly from their own bottle of wine. Helicopter lights skipped across the blackened eucalyptus trees in the street's median. Driving by, Shelly saw each tree’s trunk was bound in Christmas lights dark because of the blackout in that section of the power grid.
"This is so creepy," Shelly marveled.
Turning right on Los Feliz Rd., Shelly had to stomp on the brakes. A rock pinged across their car hood before a second cracked the windshield. A flock of people holding handmade signs that yelled
"Repent" and "The End is Nigh" were formed into a human chain across the street.
"What is this?"
"Oh, my god," Mary Hamburger snorted. "These assholes are blocking the way into Hollywood."
"They really do think its Sodom and Gomorrah," Shelly said.
"They think its Sodom and Sodom."
"This is hilarious," Shelly laughed. "What a bunch of dicks. I'm not driving around. We're going through these fuckers."
The car spurted forward and Shelly leaned on the horn. A man holding a sign reading simply "Luke 18:8" ("I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?") flung himself across the hood. Others slapped at the windshield and kicked the fenders and doors. Shelly pulled her gun from out of her borrowed purple thigh high right boot.
"What are you doing?" Mary Hamburger yelled.
Shelly winked and pressed the button that slid her sun roof open.
"Happy holidays, you assholes," Shelly cackled, squeezing two 9mm shots straight up into the air. Protesters scattered at the whip crack pops. The car screeched through parting bodies and Shelly fired again, laughing. "I fucking love the apocalypse," she squealed.
This is how stories work. When the first twenty-four-hour cable news was launched, the billionaire network founder pledged to stay on the air until the apocalypse happened. In front of a gaggle of microphones and twig snap sounding camera flashes, Ted Turner bragged, "We'll be on, and we will cover the end of the world, live, and that will be our last event. We'll play the National Anthem only one time, on the first of June, and when the end of the world comes, we'll play 'Nearer, My God, to Thee' before we sign off." The hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee" was written by Sarah Fuller Adams for her Unitarian church choir in 1881. The song is most closely associated with the sinking of the Titanic thirty-one years later. Allegedly, the eight piece music ensemble aboard the ship played the song while the northern Atlantic sucked the Titanic down its throat. People at the scene don't agree on this fact. The last survivor to leave the ship swore he heard the band playing "Songe d'Automne," a minor-key waltz that was a hit three years before. "Songe d'Automne" is a song any working musician of the day would know. What is historically agreed upon is that "Nearer, My God to Thee" was sung by the doomed passengers and crew of the S.S. Valencia, a steamer that sank off the west coast of Canada six years prior. Over a hundred people died. Weirdly, all the survivors were adult men—everyone woman and child on the ship drowned. The local newspaper reported it thusly: "(O)ver the broken rail of a wreck and of the echo of the great hymn sung by the women, who looking death smiling in the face, were able in the fog and mist and flying spray to remember: Nearer, My God, to Thee." (Italics theirs.) Grainy video of a military band playing "Nearer, My God, to Thee" exists in the cable news network's archive, filed as "TURNER DOOMSDAY VIDEO." (Caps lock theirs.) No one really wants to die to "Songe d'Automne," but they are somewhat okay with dying to a song titled "Nearer, My God, to Thee." Four different movie versions of the Titanic sinking included the band playing the tune. There is no best picture winning dramatization of the Valencia sinking. "Songe d'Automne" is a much better song. It's just not as good a story detail. Neither song is in the songbook the Titanic musicians used.
Half the channels Sergio's satellite package carried had gone to either solid black or blizzard fuzz screens. On CNN he found the fuzzy image of the uniformed band playing the last few bars of "Nearer, My God, to Thee" and lowering their instruments in military unison. Black bars on both sides of the screen framed the image to make up for the change of aspect ratio employed by 1980s cathode ray and modern digital screens.
"Tonight, the beginning of the end truly begins," the news anchor slurred over the footage ending. He sat at a desk with a barren newsroom asleep behind him. The news anchor productively coughed and tugged at his tie. "Videos uploaded online all over the eastern hemisphere show a new star in the sky. We have a live feed of the—the meteor," he stuttered when the television screen split in half, leaving the news anchor sharing space with a black plane of nothingness smudged by a white freckle of light, like the negative of a cancer-revealing x-ray. The meteor moved so fast it looked still, but was bright enough to give the Hercules constellation a third nipple. "There it is,"
the newscaster said. "Yup. There it is."
"I don't think this is the regular news guy," Sergio told no one.
He put down the remote control and went to the window. With half the lights in Los Angeles shut off leaving black squares south of downtown, there were more dozens more stars visible above than usual. He had an app that showed the names of celestial bodies when he held his phone up to the sky. Without it, he couldn't tell which of the stars above was new. When he finally located the meteor, it was labeled “Unknown Object.”
At the top of the next hour, the ancient video of "Nearer, My God, to Thee" was broadcast again.
Shelly woke up in bed alone. The space beside her was cold, blankets folded back like the place left off reading in a book. She called out for her sister and waited for an answer. Shelly rolled out of bed and left a trail of sweaty footprints on the hardwood floor, calling out twice more. Mary Hamburger's bedroom was empty. The bathroom was empty. The living room was empty and the front door locked.
"What the fuck?" Shelly asked herself out loud.
In the kitchen, she stopped and gasped as though she'd found a dead body in the street. Her watercolor paintings were taken down and stood up against the wall. "Read The Text Sorry" was written in black marker on the wall, one word stacked on top of the other. A looping arrow below pointed toward a phone on the counter. A large heart was drawn on one side of the arrow and a three foot tall curved penis on the other. Shelly laughed. "My brother is such a bitch," she said to herself.
She punched her sister's security code into the phone and scrolled upwards to the beginning of an early morning text conversation Mary Hamburger had with their mother. She read it all the way back down to the last message received: "I just pray you don't go to hell."
Shelly wandered over to the couch and dropped her body on it. Half the weed was gone from the coffee table. So was Shelly's gun. She leaned forward on the couch and started rolling a joint. "God, they deserve each other," she sighed.
Earth's penultimate day, Sergio woke up around noon. He reached for his laptop and pulled up a video of two skinny red haired girls idolizing a two-foot long veiny silicone mold like a religious object on his screen. Their helium pleasure squeaks normally would have turned Sergio rigid, but this morning was different. The thought that the schoolgirls on the classroom desk were already dead nagged Sergio. He halfheartedly tugged for another minute on his rubbery cock before giving up. Sergio clapped his laptop shut and slid it off his chest to the empty side of the bed.
The cell phone purred on the nightstand and Sergio immediately pounced on it. The words "Move to Modesto." had been texted to him. "This text she punctuates," he muttered. Sergio erupted out of bed and went to the open window. Silence outside was unnerving. The freeway half a block from his apartment building was empty except for discarded car husks, leaving it quieter than a dry creek bed. He threw the phone outside and watched it bounce off the hood of a car before belly flopping onto the asphalt.
Sergio slumped back to bed and pulled the covers up to his chest. He fished out his laptop from under the blankets and perched it on his chest again.
Shelly danced alone, twirling with her eyes closed and her face offered to Los Angeles' December midday glare. She splashed broken glass around with her feet, nursing from a 1987 Dunn Howell Mountain cabernet sauvignon. When she got dizzy and nauseated, Shelly sat on the curb and used the hem of her sister's UCLA fraternity sweater to mop sweat. She pulled her phone from her bra strap and texted her mother again.
A stray dog trotted by trying to be ignored. Shelly called her mother and hung up when an automated voice told her there was no digital space left to leave a message. She placed her phone carefully on the curb beside her and picked at the flaking red paint beside her. Half a block away, a DJ with his speakers and laptop propped up on a restaurant table dragged outside onto the sidewalk bobbed his head. He played Shelly's favorite Britney Spears song from middle school. Shelly looked up and let her eyes follow the glint of his gold plated headphones. The DJ tipped his chin and pointed at Shelly.
"Why did she take my fucking gun?" Shelly asked herself.
Shelly finished her wine and left the bottle next to her phone on the pavement. She got up and started walking to her car parked a mile away, stepping over passed out revelers. Their faces had make up and dirt seared into their skin, crystallized with any glitter they'd salt and peppered themselves with. Shelly wasn't sure which were dead and which were just comatose.
Driving back home, Shelly bounced around the radio dial trying to find any music instead of talking. Car dealerships were stocked with new models scorched charcoal black. Shattered storefront windows looked like plucked out eye sockets, businesses ransacked down to just exposed nerves and viscera. FEMA was set up in a supermarket parking lot. Emergency workers in navy blue jackets with their government agency name emblazoned in big sports team letters were easy to pick out in the zombie crowd. Ambulances parked at the scene flashed their red roof lights on and off in helpless Morse code. Helicopters droned above, cutting through the layer of smoke haze that settled over the city. Shelly passed by in quiet shock trying not to look anyone in the face.
Shelly saw a commotion at the entrance of a shopping center. A swarm of men were swinging "Repent" and "The End is Near" signs like weapons and kicking at a man balled on the ground. A smile splashed across Shelly's face as she violently yanked the driving wheel. She drove her car onto the curb, sending people scurrying away. Shelly got out of her car gripping an emptied bottle of white wine. Someone who recognized Shelly yelled out that she had a gun. The rest of the attackers retreated into the shopping center, finding hiding places in looted aromatherapy and leather handbag shops.
"That's right, run you assholes," Shelly barked out. She flung her bottle in the direction of the Christmas tree standing untouched in the shopping center's plaza. "I am so bad ass," Shelly said, marveling at herself. She turned her attention back to the man who had been attacked and helped him get up to his feet. "Are you okay?" she asked Sergio.
"What's your name?"
"I don't think it matters anymore."
"I don't care," Shelly interrupted. The car stuttered, flat-footed on a deflating right front tire. "Why were you at the Americana?" she asked.
"I saw on the news that the Christmas tree was still there. They're acting like it's a big miracle—"
"—Like a sign."
"Yeah," Sergio winced, clutching his ribs. "I just wanted to see it. I needed to see it, you know?"
"I guess. Yeah."
"So, I was there and those fuckers were guarding it. Like they claimed it, or something."
"When you call something a miracle, someone is going to try to own it," Shelly said. Sergio nodded and tried not to speak for a moment.
"Why were they attacking you?" Shelly asked.
"They got all pushy when I tried to get close, and I said something—"
"That God was being a real dick right now," Sergio answered.
"That would do it," Shelly laughed.
"Are you alone?" Shelly asked.
"Yeah," Sergio admitted. "It's just me."
"Do you really have a gun?" Sergio asked.
"Yes. And pepper spray. Don't you forget it."
"I won't. Don't worry, I'm not some crazy person."
"I am," Shelly smirked. "I live around the corner. Can I trust you not to get weird?"
"Yes, yeah. Of course."
"Good. I don't really want to be alone at the end of the world. Isn't
that the saddest thing you can think of? I don't even have cats."
"I don't think someone should be alone out at a time like this," Sergio grimaced as Shelly pulled up to the curb in front of her apartment.
"And what better place to wait out the end of the world than a messy apartment in Glendale? Let's get you cleaned up," Shelly said. "You shouldn't die looking like that."
"What's your name" he asked her again.
"Don't," Shelly ordered.
"Why?" Sergio grimaced as Shelly smoothed out a bandage on his cut cheek. "Can I just tell you my name?"
"No. Why is this so important to you?"
"It's weird to die with a complete total stranger."
"Okay," Shelly relented. "Stacy. That's my name."
"That's a lie."
"What does it matter? Why don't you make up a name to call me?" Shelly smiled. "Ooh, I like this idea. You call me by the name of a person you'd rather spend the end of the world with and I'll do the same."
"That's weird," Sergio protested.
"I'm going to call you Matt," Shelly decided. "What do you want to call me?"
"I—I don't really want—"
"—Just pick a name. It's not that hard."
"Laura? Okay. Call me Laura. This works," Shelly nodded. "Hey Matt, do you want to hang out and watch TV?"
"'Yeah, sure, Laura,'" Shelly corrected.
"Yeah, sure, Laura," Sergio repeated.
Shelly and Sergio watched fireworks shows light up the last night over the Sydney Opera House, the pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the St. Louis Arch. Explosions kept walking toward Los Angeles. At the top of each hour, Sergio sang "Nearer, My God, to Thee" to the military band VHS tape accompaniment. Shelly took him up to the roof where they watched Los Angeles celebrate its own death with gunshots and fireworks.
Sergio woke up first. "This is it," he sighed to a ceiling he'd never seen before in his life. They were the only two people left on the planet. He sat up in bed and murmured, "What time is it?"
"Who cares?" Shelly yawned. "The time has literally never meant as little as it does now," she said opening her eyes. "God, we're still here. I had really, really hoped to never wake up again."
"I like you."
"I think I like you, too," she said rolling onto her side.
"It's too bad we met with no time to get to know each other."
"Yeah," Shelly agreed. "You're someone I'd totally talk to during cigarette break at an AA meeting." She sat up in bed and crossed her legs. "Change of subject. What would you want to say to me, Laura, more than anything right now? You tell me and then I'll tell you what I want to say to Matt."
"Yeah, I think it'll be healthy. You know, like catharsis."
"Okay," Sergio warmed up. "Let's do it."
"You go first."
"Um, alright. Laura," Sergio said directly to Shelly's eyes, "I'm sorry. I’m sorry for everything."
"Apology accepted. Everything is alright," Shelly said. Sergio smiled and broke eye contact with her. "Everything is alright," Shelly cooed to him again.
"Okay," Shelly said straightening her posture. She took a deep breath and said, "Matty, I miss you. I miss being with you." Shelly started crying and moaned, "I miss you so goddamn much."
Sergio hugged her and said, "I miss you, too." He kissed her cheek twice and tried to kiss her lips, but Shelly turned away. Sergio awkwardly kissed the side of her face.
"Don't," Shelly ordered. She pushed him away and got out of bed.
"Do you think that's what I want now? How is that even in your mind? What fucking hints have I shown that said ‘Go for it’?" she spat at him.
"Be a brother, asshole. A human being. Can't you just share this with me? We had something beautiful here."
"I'm sorry," Sergio nearly whispered.
"This is just, just perfect," Shelly muttered turning her back to Sergio.
"God, men even ruin the apocalypse," she said.
A white light flashed. Window glass bulged and shattered into the room. Gravity shoved Shelly to the floor just before the shaking began. Books and vinyl records tumbled to the floor. Sergio couldn't tell if the maroon clouds groaning outside more resembled a tiger or a dog.
Anthony Parker is a Los Angeles-based fiction writer. He's published stories in West Trade Review, Noctua Review, Statement and Work Literary Magazine. He's taller in person.