What We Always Did but More
By Mitch James
We’ve been waiting for the world to end now for seven months, three days, and twelve hours. We know how we’ll go. Our life now is preparing for it, yet I don’t even look up to see it anymore.
Most of us saw it on sunrise the first day. Those who missed it saw it during sunrise the second day. By the third day, it hung there at all hours, a red dot beside the sun.
On the first day I was taking Haley to school. She said, “Daddy, what’s wrong with the sun?”
I said, “What do you mean, honey? What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s all blurry,” she laughed. “Silly sun.”
I came to a stop light and peered at my daughter in the rearview mirror. She stared out of her window. I followed her gaze. The dot was but the size of a marble then, cadmium red diluting to transparent orange as it bled into the halo of the sun, a ruptured vessel in the yoke of an egg, spread on a canvas of phthalo blue. Within twenty four hours, dozens of artist all over the world painted their rendition of that sky. Brendan Monroe’s Fin Du Monde sold for 1.3 billion dollars, far outselling Paul Cézanne’s The Card Players, the most expensive painting to date.
I took my daughter to school despite the sky. Kids and parents alike stared high, parents with hands on their hips or in their pockets or over the brow of their forehead to block the sun, the kids asking mommy, mommy, daddy, daddy, needing answers. The bell rang, and the teachers blew their whistles. The school yard cleared and was still except where blades of grass tried to stand tall inside a single boot print.
After that, everything was news. Nobody knew exactly what was happening. Scientists postulated. The Russians and Americans agreed that Apophis was a planet missed by telescopes due to its ovular orbit, one that brought it from beneath our solar system and around the back of the sun. That was the end of Russian and American agreement until just weeks ago. The Americans suspected the sudden climate change over the last thirty years was actually a result of the gravitational effects of Apophis entering our solar system. The Russians disagreed. One week after the appearance of Apophis, there was an international conference in Hawaii debating whether or not global warming and climate change were results of the planet or of mankind or of some combination of both. The answers to such questions, they said, could affect the lives of generations to come.
Their second disagreement concerned the likelihood of impact. During the first few weeks of Apophis’ appearance, American scientists argued that impact was inevitable and that, for humans, it would be a global killer. Russian scientists believed the planet would miss earth by a mere 973 miles, showering our planet in an onslaught of tail debris that would be catastrophic but not world ending. Then the Americans argued that if Apophis came that close it would reverse our gravitational pull, flipping earth upside down within half a day, sending the oceans in mile high waves across every continent. The Russians agreed. Then cognitive scientists suggested that such a large disruption in electromagnetic energy would scramble the circuits of our own brains, very likely wiping them clean, leaving most of us vegetables at best. People began moving inland, and the wealthy built large, tall structures with interior rooms made purely of lead.
Two months later, as Apophis grew bigger in the sky than the sun, both the Russians and Americans agreed impact was inevitable and that it would kill us all.
While all of this happened, those of us in the country or small towns did what we always did but more. I worked and picked my daughter up from school every day and made certain I had her at her mother’s house on time every weekend. I helped the neighbors hand dig the start of their underground storage shelter. Though they got their name on the wait list within the first week of Apophis’ appearance, if took nearly three months before they could rent a back hoe from State Supply. We had most everything dug by the time we got the machine. The Kellys put lead walls and a series of sump pump systems in their shelter. The pumps drained into the valley. Gerry was certain those pumps, which he rigged to be both solar and gas powered, could drain enough water to keep the place livable even in Noah’s flood. We chuckled about that and started to dig the hole for my bunker but had to return the back hoe. By then the waiting list was at 36 months.
In the country and small towns, we mostly helped each other, stocking up goods, sharing meat and vegetables, canning and pickling and providing manual labor. We went to work, tended our families, and came home and prepared not to die.
In the past seven months scientist have predicted the impact date three separate times, but there’s been no impact. The night before the first predicted impact, I took Haley to her mother’s. It was the first time the three of us had been together in a room in four years. We had dinner and played Go Fish. Carol and I held hands on the couch while Haley slept across our laps. We watched the sky and the clocks but then decided to put the clocks face down and close our eyes and listen to the world end. I woke up at sunrise just as Haley was getting up to pee. It was a Wednesday, so I told Carol I’d bring Haley back that weekend, and we left. On the second impact date, I brought Haley to Carol’s again, but this time we sat at different ends of the couch and watched the clocks while Haley colored. It was a Monday afternoon. Two hours after the time of estimated impact, Haley and I decided to leave. The third predicted impact was on a Saturday afternoon. I dropped Haley off at Carol’s that morning and picked her up that Sunday evening.
We used to pray many times every day. We used to watch it in the sky all of the time, until it got bigger than the sun. It’s been months since I’ve really sat down and looked at it like I used to. I’ve heard the sunsets are beautiful, a red disc and an orange disc beside each other, their colors bleeding together on the horizon, but I haven’t seen a single one. I can’t bring myself to do it. Scientists agree that there will be something left of earth but not of humans, like we were never here. Everything we’ve ever thought about the universe will be erased. The understanding, shape, color, and smell of every single thing, gone. If something comes after us, it will have to start all over again. I don’t want to see that in a sunset, so I don’t pray or look at sunsets. I work and take care of my daughter and help my neighbors prepare to survive.
About the author:
Mitch James was born and raised in Central Illinois, where he received a BA in English with a minor in Creative Writing from Eastern Illinois University. He received a Masters in Literature from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and has had fiction and poetry published in Decomp, Underground Voices, Kill Author, Digital Americana and Blue Earth Review among others. Mitch is a doctoral candidate (ABD) in the Composition and TESOL program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he’s both an instructor in the English Department and Assistant Coordinator of the English Writing Portfolio Placement Program. Mitch’s latest scholarly article, “Tragedy, Plot, Fiction: A Study of Sameness and How You May Have Been Duped,” was recently published in New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing.