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Duncan’s Reckoning

By Chris Bedell

 

6:45 A.M.

Saying Earth would end wasn’t something that rolled off the tongue. Not that I was articulate, because I wasn’t. However, getting ahead of myself would only make things more confusing.

Backing up a few minutes earlier to when I was about finished with my morning walk would clear things up, though…

Sweat clung to my body as I fanned myself with my tee-shirt when I was a few hundred feet away from my home. And it would’ve been nice if a breeze flew through the air. But no. That would’ve been too easy for the universe. Because I was an expert in bitching. Blaming the universe for everything awful was easier than breathing. I mean, there was nothing but blistering rays of sunlight, streaming down from the cloudless sky.

Oh well.

Sweating was my price for exercising. And no. Not going for a walk if I knew it was hot out would’ve been futile since morning exercise always calmed me before a busy day of classes. After all, junior year of high school was synonymous with hell for a reason. Those SAT and AP Tests just screamed out wanting to be taken. NOT. Whatever. I should’ve been glad I wasn’t a senior like my cousin. His parents always hovered over him, telling him about everything wrong he did, in addition to mentioning colleges he should apply to.

The old lady who lived across the street from my house ran out of her McMansion, screaming. “I just knew I would never live to see 80,” she said, moving her fists through the air.

I furrowed an eyebrow. “What are you talking about, Mrs. Baker?”

She bit her lip. “Don’t believe me? Turn on the news and see for yourself. Earth is being sucked into a mysterious vortex in outer space.”

“Yeah. Okay,” I said, snickering.

Sure. Laughing at old people might have been rude. But there were only so many times a person could deal with Mrs. Baker because she wasn’t an average nut-job. She was the craziest of the crazy. She was the one who ran around saying oxygen had calories…

Whatever.

I mean, yeah. Mrs. Baker might have been delusional and could’ve benefited from counseling, but she was harmless since she had no clear malicious intentions.

If someone criticized Mrs. Baker, it should’ve been for all the trees guarding her red cape-style house. Her home was like a fortress. It was buried behind the trees, which was probably the reason why nobody went to her house on Halloween. Either that or because she was a witch. But there was no proof. Making those comments was just another mundane rite of passage that kids and teenagers did in my town to pass the time.

Mrs. Baker causing everyone amusement was worth praising because she dressed the opposite of my grandma. Her current outfit proved that. She sported flip flops, shorts, and a white tee-shirt. And there was no doubt Grandma would’ve given her a lecture for her lack of style. She believed in cheesy sayings, and the mantra about “dressing for success” was no exception.

I wasn’t in charge of Mrs. Baker though, and Mr. Baker could discuss the fashion issue with her if he wanted.

Screeching echoed in the background, and I craned my head. A car had just come close to running over a deer. Hmm. Maybe there was a chance Mrs. Baker could have been correct. Sure. I might not have been psychic. But almost running over a deer seemed like something a panicked person would do.

“Get inside,” called out a voice.

I spun around. Grandma stood at the edge of the driveway.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Grandma sighed at me. “Earth is coming to an end tonight at 9:30.”

“You mean Mrs. Baker was right?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so.” Grandma rubbed her pearl necklace. “According to the news…”

Mrs. Baker waved at Grandma. “Hi, Patricia. I don’t suppose you want to finally have that cup of tea now that Earth is ending, do you?”

Grandma shook her head. “No, I’m afraid not. I have much more pressing matters to deal with. Perhaps your husband can join you.”

I suppressed the urge to laugh despite how acting silly had nothing to do with being callous. There were only so many times I could think about Mrs. Baker trying to befriend Grandma before bursting into nonstop laughter. If I felt like going on a ramble, I would’ve taken the time to feel sorry for Mrs. Baker. She couldn’t take the hint that Grandma didn’t want to be friends with her. If she hadn’t learned that by now, there was no point in telling her. Mrs. Baker never read between the lines with all of the things Grandma had to do, such as “claiming” to go to her bridge game or garden club fundraiser. It wasn’t like those activities met every day.

An inquisitive person would’ve even bothered to consider if Mrs. Baker still believed in Santa Claus. Yeah. Making assumptions about people might have been presumptuous, but Mrs. Baker was beyond naïve. Although I speculated enough for now because checking the news was the only way to tell for sure if Earth was coming to an end.

***

7:30 A.M.

Grandma remained by the edge of the driveway because Mrs. Baker insisted on a proper chat. Although I went inside to see for myself if there was any truth to what they said. After all, watching the news would either eliminate any doubt about the apocalypse or confirm that Grandma and Mrs. Baker were both crazy and should have been committed to a mental institution years.

Hell. They could even become roommates, which was worth a snicker or two. Having that arrangement would have driven Grandma to insanity.

The headline: BREAKING NEWS: Earth Ending Tonight flashed across the TV (which happened to be on CNN) when I sat down on the couch in the TV room.

“Oh, dear,” I said to myself.

The news anchor turned to her guest. “Thank you for joining me, Dr. Gel. I was wondering if you could explain this vortex situation to those of us without a PhD in psychics.”

“Certainly, Valeria. A vortex occurs when stars explode and leave a lot of energy behind.”

“Interesting.” Laughter fell from the news anchor’s mouth. And it wasn’t one of those amused voices. The inflection in her tone revealed everything. It was more forced, as it must have been the only things she could do. Not that blaming her would have been fair. Because it wasn’t. I mean, there was no right reaction to Earth ending.

“So there’s a clear precedent for the vortex event?” Valeria asked.

He coughed, clearing the scratchiness from his throat. “Yes. It has happened a handful of times in other galaxies.”

“Good to know.” The news anchor took in several deep breaths. “Because it would be a shame to think Earth was the only planet that’s ever been signaled about the universe. So is Earth itself going to be sucked into the vortex, or are people going to be ripped through the atmosphere and dragged into outer space and into the vortex?”

Dr. Gel sighed. “The former. The force from the vortex will create a tornado like event without an actual tornado. But then…”

“What is it?”

“Once everyone has been floating around for a couple of minutes, the Earth will disintegrate once it reaches the center of the vortex,” Dr. Gel said, rubbing a bead of sweat from his forehead. “And that includes people too, meaning everyone’s bodies will turn to dust.”

The news anchor remained silent, and her response was once again something I couldn’t disagree with. I mean, call me crazy. There was just something unnerving about being vaporized.

Valeria raised an eyebrow. “And Earth is already being pulled closer to the vortex right now?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so.”

Valeria pushed her elbows further up the desk, and if Grandma were here to watch the news, I would have even laughed. According to Grandma, “polite” people didn’t put their elbows on tables. And there was no doubt Grandma would have rambled like she always did when witnessing lapses in decorum and morality. “Where did this 9:30 PM prediction come from?” Valeria asked.

“Based on calculations from the distance of Earth to the vortex and the speed of the vortex’s force,” Dr. Gel replied.

“Can you offer us any hope?”

“Unfortunately not,” he said. “The only way to escape would be to travel into outer space or cause a hole in the space time continuum and go to another dimension.”

Damn.

I might not have been the most optimistic person. However, even I could appreciate how Earth’s end was a serious issue. Because I of all people had a right to experience pangs of rage throughout my body. I was still a teenager and my life was being stolen from me because of Earth ending.

Sure. I couldn’t deny how Earth’s ending created interesting drama. But this was real life. Not some science fiction movie.

If only the universe wasn’t so cruel and twisted.

But no. The universe just had to mess with people. Hmm. This was what people must have felt like when they were diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Shit. I was more cynical than I realized if I compared life to a bad health prognosis. Whatever. Making an extreme comparison was fair because Grandma’s cliché expressions were sometimes true. In this case, that meant calling a spade a spade.

“Then I don’t know what I’m still doing here.” The news anchor got up from her chair without even pushing it in. “Because I quit, and have much better things to do than to wait around till 9:30.”

Footsteps squeaked across the floor, and I shifted my gaze after turning the TV off.

“There you are,” I said. “I was thinking my initial reaction was wrong and maybe a search party would have to be called.”

“I can’t say that I would’ve blamed you,” Grandma said.

***

8:00 A.M.

“I just can’t believe it,” Grandma said while we sat on our living room couch having coffee and sugar cookies. “I’ve spent all my life dieting, and now we’re all going to die.”

“There’s no need to be melodramatic. Some things are beyond control.”

“It’s not melodramatic if it’s true.” Grandma munched on her cookie, making a crunching sound. An English teacher would’ve appreciated the irony of the situation. Grandma used to be the prime example of decorum.

I shifted my head. The photo of Dad, Grandma, and I popped out at me. An amusement park ride was in the background. Judging from my miniature height, it must have been from our trip to Hershey Park when I was ten, which was the last happy memory we had. Because mentioning how Dad abandoned Grandma and I was much worse than saying Earth was coming to an end.

Sure.

Knowing today was the last day of Earth was beyond horrendous. But that was impersonal whereas I was Dad’s family (as was Grandma). Then again, I couldn’t say his actions surprised me. He was the one who always complained about hating his job as a real estate appraiser. Although Dad should’ve known better than to ditch me. I never even met my mother. She died right after my birth, proving bad things still happened even though it was the 21st century and medicine was supposed to be more advanced.

Her eyes widened. “It’s okay if you miss your father, Duncan.”

“There’s no need to talk about it,” I said, wiping my eyes.

Crying might have been a human impulse, but there was no need for Grandma to see me being emotional. That would’ve embarrassed me, which was the last thing I needed.

“What are you talking about?” she exclaimed. “You have every right to be pissed off that your father abandoned us. It was shitty. Because if it weren’t for my pension and social security, we’d be in trouble.”

Pointing out how someone cursed might have been childish, but I couldn’t help myself. Grandma was the one who always said cursing was vulgar. In fact, the only time she ever cursed was after discovering her gin bottle was empty.

“The only good thing about the end of the world is not having to deal with Mrs. Baker.” Grandma devoured another cookie and gulped down the rest of her coffee.

“Yes, that’s true. Anyway, if you don’t mind, would it be okay if we didn’t keep discussing Earth’s end? It’s like a doctor always addressing a patient’s weight problem. They both know it exists, but dwelling on it only makes things worse.”

She wagged a finger. “Don’t tell me that you enjoy life more than you let on?”

“Fine. Maybe I do.”

“You can have a gin and tonic with dinner tonight, if you want.”

“I’m only 17,” I said, stealing a glance at Grandma. We then laughed at the obvious fallacy in my argument.

The doorbell rang before Grandma and I could speak, and I answered the front door.

Looking up at the person’s eyes to know her identity was unnecessary because the trademark leather jacket said it all.

“Hi, Tricia. I suppose you heard the news?” I asked.

She nodded. “Yeah. Although there’s nothing like a crisis to make people drive worse. I didn’t even think I’d get here in one piece. But please tell me you’re going to ditch school today.”

“You bet. It’ll be great that students get to have the last laugh when the teachers realize nobody cared about their classes.”

“That’s a harsh thought. So do you want to invite me in or what?” She twirled a strand of her black hair, accenting the pink streaks.

Yeah. Saying Tricia had a unique sense of style was an understatement. And the only reason why Grandma let us hangout despite her morbid look was because she had always been a good friend to me. She even tolerated my nonstop whining when Dad left.

“No. We can talk out here.” I shut the front door and sat down on the ground.

Tricia sat down next to me. “What do you want to do for our last day?”

“I don’t know. Grandma wants me to try liquor.”

“You should.”

“Oh, please! You act as if the teenage drinking portrayed on television is normal.”

“It is for some people.”

“That doesn’t make it right,” I said, sneering at her. “But whatever. As long you keep your 4.0 GPA, you know your parents will be happy.”

Yup. My comment was 100 percent accurate because Tricia partied a lot. Plus, her having chill parents that never grilled her about anything since she always did well in school helped. It wasn’t like Tricia smoked pot every day.

I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Although there is one thing that I’m wondering if I should do.”

“Let me guess. Are you referring to your dad?”

“How did you know?”

“We’ve been best friends since preschool, Duncan. We’re bound to finish a sentence for each other here and there.”

Tricia had a point. Knowing me had nothing to do with being arrogant because she knew everything and anything about me. If she hadn’t, that would’ve been more troubling.

“Do you even know where to begin?” Tricia continued.

“Yeah. My dad went for a weekend golf outing in Lakeridge with his best friend, George, before ditching Grandma and me.”

“That’s two hours away.”

“True. But we don’t have to go to Lakeridge. Talking to George will suffice. Maybe he knows something,” I said.

“If you really want to talk to your dad, you should.”

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s a silly idea. It won’t change what happened…”

“Yes, that’s true,” she said. “But it might make you feel better.”

“What would you do if you were me?”

“I don’t think that matters.”

I jabbed her shoulder in a playful fashion. “Oh, come on! You’re my best friend.”

She inhaled a deep breath. “Fine. I would go see him if I were you.”

Knowing Tricia resembled me more than she might have admitted was a good thing. It showed she was human. It was only natural to be a little curious and want to talk to Dad. I mean, I couldn’t be the only inquisitive person in the world.

“Thank you for telling me.”

Her gaze narrowed. “Is that what you want to do?”

“Maybe I’m not ready or strong enough to handle my dad…”

“I think you’re stronger than you give yourself credit for,” Tricia said.

“Possibly. Anyway, I’ve made up my mind. Let’s track him down.”

Sure. I might have taken more than a second to think, but weighing my options was fair. There was a chance that things with Dad could go wrong. Check that. Talking with him could turn into a blunder, and that was why I had to be prepared for the possibility of more disappointment.

I mean, Earth might have been ending, and one could think Dad couldn’t hurt me anymore than he already had. But if Dad hurt me once, then he could do that again.

Tricia snickered at my comment. “Finally. Anyway, hopefully George will be helpful.”

“I don’t know,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. “But it’s worth a try. It’s the only lead I have to go on.”

“Fair enough.”

Caring about being mature enough not to need closure was pointless because there was nothing wrong with wanting to track Dad down and hold him accountable for leaving Grandma and me. It was one thing for a child or teenager to be reckless, but Dad was an adult and should’ve known better. That meant he didn’t deserve a medal for just doing the minimum with working and paying the bills. Most people agonized through annoying jobs. It was part of life, and he wasn’t special.

***

10:50 A.M.

The clunky sound of Tricia’s ignition halted after she parked on the curb in front of George’s house. Although if I gave the matter more thought, I would’ve rambled about how I should’ve driven instead of Tricia. She drove too fast, and there was no doubt she would’ve gotten a speeding ticket if we ran into the cops. Although driving worse than some maniac fugitive engaged in a car chase with the police wasn’t entirely Tricia’s fault. The roads were more chaotic since it was the apocalypse. For example, one driver almost accidentally drove off the road. Another driver even ran a red light and almost caused a car accident because the driver coming from the other direction almost didn’t stop in time.

I knocked on the front door because nobody answered after Tricia rang the doorbell.

The door opened, revealing George. And there was no doubt Grandma would’ve lectured him about the importance of home maintenance since the exterior’s peeling paint wasn’t exactly welcoming-that was if it were any day but today.

“What do you want?” he asked.

Good thing George only reviewed other appraiser’s appraisals and didn’t go out and appraise homes himself since his unshaven face, uncombed hair, wrinkled shirt and ripped pants was enough to put a picture of him next to the word disheveled in the dictionary. I mean, sure. His thin stature, warm eyes and forced smile might have been nice. And there was nothing wrong with how he was six-feet tall. But those features wouldn’t excuse his grungy appearance. Hell, I would’ve even said banks would’ve thrown him out on his ass in a second if he weren’t a review appraiser. Dad was his mother’s son and emphasized how looking professional was essential since he always worried about the homeowner complaining to the bank about his appearance.

The stench of cigarette smoke wafting through the air and booze oozing out from his pores was also worth a scoff. I of all people would’ve recognized the morning after one too many drinks. Because between Tricia’s carefree spirit and Dad’s impulsiveness, they could’ve operated a night club.

I folded my arms. “Do you know where my dad is?”

George remained silent. Not that I could have blamed him. Although it was almost 11 o’clock in the morning and he could’ve at least pretended to have one brain cell.

Tricia frowned. “Duncan asked you a question…”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know where your dad is,” George said.

My eyes remained fixated on George. There was no way he wouldn’t tell me something important. He just had to. “You were his best friend. You have to know something.”

George pursed his lips. “I’m sorry, but I have things to do…”

I gave him a dirty look. “Come on. You can help me. You’re just making too much of a big deal about it.”

George averted his gaze. “It’s none of my business, Duncan…”

“I’m not leaving till you help me,” I said.

Tricia frowned at George. “Come on. Don’t you think helping Duncan would be a good thing?”

“I’m his father’s friend, not Duncan’s,” George insisted.

I folded my arms together. “You’re going to have to call the cops if you want us gone.”

Sure. My comment might have been dramatic, but it was necessary. George now knew I was serious if I had no problem with him calling the cops. Plus, it wasn’t like I would go to jail for a long time given what was happening today.

“Fine. But only because it’d be nice if you two left.” George shut the door and went inside before coming back outside again.

I took the piece of paper from him. “What’s this?”

“It’s your dad’s last known address in Vatesville,” George said. “He hasn’t returned my messages in over two years.”

“You didn’t think to check up on him?” Tricia asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. “I have my own problems. Like coming up with the money to pay for my mother’s nursing home.”

I forced a smile. “Thanks. I appreciate the help.”

“Tell your dad he owes me a round of golf if you see him,” he said.

George might have been annoying, but he did come through for me since even the smallest action revealed character.

Damn. I thought about English class too much if I was preoccupied with characterization. But changing my neurotic tendencies would have been foolish as a result of today’s apocalypse since I had bigger things to worry about.

***

1:00 P.M.

Tricia and I got out of the car in Vatesville and walked towards the front door of the address George gave us. Although trying not to think about the increased speeding from the frantic drivers was for the best. Because Earth’s end didn’t mean I had to listen to the echoing of my pounding pulse.

Going on a ramble would’ve entailed having a comment about the Mercedes in the driveway. But no. I would only give Dad as much attention as necessary.

Tricia gritted her teeth. “Maybe I should talk to your father instead…”

My eyes shifted to the passionate embrace in the living room, which was visible from the front door since the curtains weren’t shut.

Dad met my gaze and pulled back from the woman he kissed seconds earlier. The door then opened.

“What are you doing here?” Dad asked.

“George gave me the address,” I said.

He took in a deep breath. “Oh yeah? And how’s George?”

Ignoring the increased sound of my heart thumping inside my chest was the only thing I could do since focusing on my anxiety would’ve only made the present situation worse. “Fine. But that’s not the point.”

He crossed his arms. “What do you want?”
Sure. I might have hated the man, but his question was fair. That was the problem with events and milestones. People always made them be much bigger than they were. Even if Dad came home, it wasn’t like everything would be the same. Dad had been gone for almost seven years now.

“Were you even going to contact me since Earth is being sucked into a vortex today?” I asked.

“No,” Dad said. He didn’t even flinch or wince. “Although it did cross my mind for a fleeting second.”

Wow. I could once again count on Dad for emotional support. NOT. But that was fine. I was privy to how there was a chance that things could go wrong for us.

“Maybe I didn’t think this through, but somebody needs to tell you what a terrible person you are,” I continued.

He snorted without even apologizing about how making a pig-like sound was rude. “I don’t know what you want to me say…”

The door opened.

Although I found out everything worth knowing about his bimbo with one glance since she reeked of phoniness-whether it was her dark roots seeping through her blonde hair, her spray on tan, or nose job.

Sure.

She might have been thin, and the red dress framed her body well since it gave her cleavage. But I doubted she even had one brain cell.

“What’s the hold up, baby?” said the woman to Dad. “We were supposed to open the champagne.” Her eyes then shifted to me. “I’m sorry, and you are?”

Worrying about any initial judgement that might have formed in her mind was pointless. She was anything but the pillar of decorum, and there was no doubt I would have won any argument with her. After all, I would have just had to use a big word.

I grunted at the woman. “I’m his son.”

She cocked her head back at Dad. “You have a son?”

“Go back inside,” Dad said. “I’ll join you in a minute.”

The lady went back in the house, leaving Tricia, Dad, and I to talk.

Dad’s eyes bulged. “Having empathy wouldn’t kill you, Duncan. You have no idea what it was like to worry about money.”

“Great to know you cared about your priorities,” I said. “I mean, how you can just behave like an asshole?”

His lips quivered. “Don’t talk to me like that!”

“I’m sorry,” I interrupted. “I think you gave up the right for respect a long time ago.”

“I don’t know what you want from me,” Dad said.

“I deserve a real answer. You really left me because you were tired of your responsibilities?”

“That’s what I said.” Dad cackled. And there was nothing warm about his voice. It was just cold. Not that I should have been surprised. Him abandoning me proved he wasn’t capable of compassion.

Needing Dad’s confirmation about why he left me wasn’t about being redundant. It was about him acknowledging out loud that he was a shitty person.

“Although at least I’m married to a millionaire now,” Dad continued.

“Wow.” I took in a deep breath. “Coming here was a mistake. Grandma and I have been on our own for a long time, and we’ve been doing just fine. Goodbye.”

Knowing this was the last time Dad and I would see each other would’ve been a damning thought under any other circumstance. But my conversation with him would be fleeting like any shred of a possible uplifting memory. I had just needed time to realize reconciling with Dad wasn’t mutually exclusive with being happy.

Besides, crying over being upset with Dad would have been pointless. I used up my tears on him years earlier. Because I had a confession to make. Tricia hadn’t just listened to me bitch about Dad abandoning Grandma and me. She had also endured all of my tears and hysterical fits. And that was why I hadn’t tried tracking Dad down earlier. I wasn’t ready. Finding Dad also seemed like it would require too much emotional effort (which it did).

So, yeah. Compartmentalizing the situation to Dad just leaving, and me having a snarky attitude was easier than forcing myself to track him down.

***

            9:00 P.M.

            The trees jerked back and forth in the roaring wind outside while almost slamming into my house. Hmm. There was no way to positively ramble about the increasing wind. The inevitable was approaching regardless of how much people on Earth might have hoped the impending apocalypse was a nightmare that everyone would wake up from ASAP.

“I’m sorry everything with your dad was so underwhelming,” Tricia said, giving me a quick pat on the shoulder.

I didn’t even flinch. “It’s all good.”

The living room wall clock might have been the obvious way to figure out that it was evening, but one only needed to look outside to realize Earth was in its last half hour. The night sky was pitch black, as the only outdoor light was from the waxiness of the full moon and the stars’ illumination.

Tricia and I just came home after spending the rest of the day doing fun stuff such as going to the beach, movies, Starbucks and out to dinner. Finding a movie theatre, Starbucks, and restaurant that had workers and was open was difficult, though. Because it took at least a good half an hour to find each new venue when it was time to change activities.

Although I shouldn’t have been surprised that there were still a few places open.

And it had nothing to do with being optimistic. Because I wasn’t. However, the world was a strange place and having some helpful people wasn’t entirely unrealistic. Some people enjoyed doing things for others.

Grandma was proof.

Yeah. She might have sometimes rivaled Mrs. Baker for maniac of the year, but she always indulged my Starbucks cravings in the past despite how it was an expensive habit.

Hell, Grandma would’ve even approved of us spending so much money today since that was the one thing she loved most of all. She even once told me a story about how she chose buying new trees over paying the phone bill when Dad was a kid. Although she shouldn’t have told me that story since it made her appear quirky. Because I would’ve made some snide comment under my breath if anyone else told me that they knew someone who chose buying trees over something essential.

“I wonder where Grandma is?” I asked.

***

9:14 P.M.

The wind’s howling was even louder-as if that were even possible. In fact, it was a miracle that the trees hadn’t been uprooted because of the wind’s forcefulness.

Tricia handed me a piece of paper after searching for any sign of Grandma. “Read this.”

My eyes scanned the document: Drove to Grandpa’s. Who knows? Maybe the end of the world will help us reconcile. At the very least, I’ll enjoy the gin even if his flakiness reminds me too much of your father. But if I don’t see you again, just know I love you. PS You and Tricia can help yourself to the gin. I bought extra earlier today.

I chuckled and put the note down on the living room table. “Good to know Grandma’s capable of having fun.”

Grandma writing a handwritten note might have sounded like something out of a nineteenth century novel, but she didn’t text. She was lucky if she even knew how to make a call on her iPhone.

“I guess I might as well stay put.” Tricia said. “It is getting late…”

“Yeah. Even without traffic it still takes a good twenty minutes to get to the other side of town.”

Tricia pushed a lock of her hair out of the way. “Although I should call my parents…”

“Fair enough.”

***

9:28 P.M.

Tricia and I still stood where we had been since arriving home (in the living room) while attempting to ignore the wind’s continuing tenacity. Only divine intervention would have made it go away.

However, I had the last laugh over Dad since the crackling of the flames in the fireplace wasn’t for atmosphere. I burned the watch he gave me for my fifth birthday.

Sure. Destroying something Dad gave me might have been destructive. But if a minor ritual gave me superficial comfort, that was good. Also, I didn’t need a watch now that the world was ending.

Tricia threw a gaze in my direction. “So what do you want to talk about for our last minute and a half?”

“I don’t know. Everything. Anything.”

***

9:29 P.M.

The wind was now so loud that comparing it to thousands of screeching trains would have been an understatement. However, I couldn’t say I was surprised. This was what a radio news station mentioned would happen when we listened to it while driving to Dad’s.

Tricia squeezed my hand. “At least we have each other.”

I snickered at her suggestion. “Yeah, okay.”

Seeming awkward by being sarcastic was the only thing I could do.

I mean, sure. Tricia and I knew things between us were only platonic, but there was no harm in making one last joke. Our classmates used to do it all the time when we were in middle school.

Wow. Life was bad when going back to middle school seemed welcoming.

“I’m just going to say it,” Tricia blurted out. “What the hell are we supposed to expect at 9:30?”

“I don’t know. But we shouldn’t live the last minute of our lives in fear.”

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

I leaned in without even thinking about my behavior, and I kissed Tricia on the lips. We maintained the embrace for what must have been at least a good ten seconds. I mean, I was just so neurotic that I could count time accurately. Not that I should have been focusing on counting when kissing. Even if it was with my best friend.

Tricia smirked after we pulled back from each other. “Wow.”

“I’ve always wanted to kiss a girl, but I never got the chance.”

She held her hand up. “It’s fine. You don’t owe me any explanations.”

Yeah. Knowing how Tricia would react to the kiss was impossible. However, her easygoing attitude wasn’t surprising. And it wasn’t just because the world was ending. We were good enough friends that we could do something silly and have it be meaningless.

Sure. The kiss might have been comforting. And the scent of her strawberry lipstick was alluring. That much was true. But there was no spark to the kiss, which was fine. The point was, Tricia was the one who was there for me right now, as opposed to Grandma. I mean, it wasn’t that I blamed Grandma for wanting to be with Grandpa. Because I didn’t. But it would’ve been nice if Grandma was here with me during Earth’s final minutes and seconds.

***

9:30 P.M.

A swooshing sound echoed before the door opened and flew away as a force tugged at us no matter how much we tried having our feet cling to the floor. The wind dragged us outside before we started zipping through the sky.

Oh well. Complaining about the universe being unfair wouldn’t change the apocalypse no matter how nice that would have been.

Yeah. My comment wasn’t an error. It was a fact. Sure. Most people would’ve been upset about the end of the world, but there was no point in bitching now. It wasn’t like anyone would be around to see the words, “Duncan Masters- Superb Complainer” on my tombstone since Earth wouldn’t exist tomorrow.

Trees, houses, and cars were also bobbing around in the air. But I didn’t even want to think about all the dangling things. And it wasn’t even that the floating in the air meant everything would vaporize soon, as the news mentioned this morning. There was just something alarming about trees, houses, or cars smacking someone. Although it might not have made much difference now since everything and anyone would soon disintegrate.

At least Tricia and I weren’t alone since we had each other. There was also something comforting about the thin shapes of people being visible. In a weird way, the universe was being fair because the vortex situation targeted everyone and not just one individual.

I mean, thinking so wasn’t about being optimistic. Because I wasn’t. I was just being my usual quirky self and was desperate for something to hold onto.

Although waiting to be vaporized wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Because this was still the universe. The shrills and delirious rantings from people floating by was enough to shoot cold tingling sensations up my back. After all, Earth’s/everyone’s end was no longer theoretical. It was almost here.

Sure. One would think that hearing someone’s distress would be impossible because of the wind sounding like a collection of roaring trains. But no. There were enough distressed screams to “speak” over the wind.

Ouch. Something grazed my back, and I craned my head, only to realize it was a garbage can. Damn. Thank goodness the garbage can didn’t smack me in the head because I didn’t even want to imagine how that would feel.

Something hummed, and I looked upwards.

A UFO descended in altitude in a matter of seconds before it was at the same level as Tricia and me. The UFO was about the size of a McMansion, and had a fat circular top with two oval shaped lights across the center and a thinner circular bottom was now only a few feet away from us.

“What the hell?” I said, shaking my head.

Tricia looked in the direction of the UFO, but didn’t say anything. Not that I could blame her. There was no Hallmark card to prepare for Earth’s end or seeing a UFO.

The UFO door opened, revealing Mrs. Baker at the top of the staircase.

“You need to come with us! People are going to disintegrate soon,” Mrs. Baker screamed, as her voice almost wasn’t audible because of the UFO’s school bell like screechiness.

Forces of air tugged at Tricia and me before we could climb up the stairs ourselves. The UFO door then shut.

My jaw lowered. “Are you an alien?”

Mrs. Baker took in several deep breaths before responding. “I’ll explain soon.”

Something popped outside, and the UFO jerked backwards before shooting upward. Although Tricia and I fell. Apparently, the sensation from the sudden shift in speed was a million times worse than suffering whiplash in a car. Not that I would use math or science to prove the increased speed. Because I wouldn’t. I mean, I still wasn’t even sure what was happening.

My eyes shifted towards the windows after I stood up. Although being 100 percent honest meant admitting how standing was still difficult as result of the UFO’s continued fast pace.

Copious amounts of stars lit up the sky. Those weren’t the only things that were visible, though. We also passed several planets.

I mean, I wasn’t a scientist or anything. But even an idiot could realize what gigantic circular shaped objects were.

“Aren’t we going to suffocate without oxygen?” Tricia asked.

Mrs. Baker, who happened to still be dressed in the same thing she wore earlier in the day (a white tee-shirt, shorts, and flip flops), laughed at the question. “Don’t worry, dear. The ship has oxygen, and you’ll only need a spacesuit if you leave the ship.”

I narrowed my gaze. “How did we just disappear so quickly?”

“That’s the advantage of the UFO. It can travel faster than an airplane,” Mrs. Baker replied. “Now please follow me. There’s someone you’ll be happy to see.”

The three of us walked by several wooden doors while Tricia and me walked slowly in order to maintain our balance because of the UFO traveling fast. In fact, it was almost like walking across a tightrope at the circus. We then went into a room that resembled a break room at an office back on Earth.

My eyes beamed. “Grandma!!! You’re alive.”

Grandma got up from her chair that was by a table and gave me a hug. And I shouldn’t have been surprised that her hug was tighter than being suffocated by a python. This was Grandma, and she didn’t believe in puny hugs. According to her, people deserved “real” hugs. Not quick superficial hugs.

“Where’s Grandpa?” I asked.

Grandma looked down at the floor. “I couldn’t persuade him to come. He wanted to stay at his place as long as he could.”

I sighed. “That’s unfortunate.”

Tricia turned to Mrs. Baker. “Are you an alien?”

Mrs. Baker nodded. “Yes, and I promise I’ll answer your questions soon. However, we haven’t been formally introduced. I’m Mrs. Baker; Duncan’s crazy neighbor.”

“I’m Tricia.” She shook Mrs. Baker’s hand.

I glared at Mrs. Baker. “Tricia and I are still waiting for an explanation. I mean, how can you be an alien and still look like a human?”

Mrs. Baker expelled a sharp giggle. “That’s easy. Not every alien is green and scaly. Some look just like humans. Except the only difference is that I come from a planet that surpasses Earth’s technology.”

“Interesting,” I said.

“Let me put it this way. Advanced time and space travel has been around for almost nine thousand years on my planet,” Mrs. Baker continued.

Grandma gasped at the comment.

Wow. Good to know some things were still capable of surprising Grandma even if she was older than I was. Oh well. That just proved she didn’t know everything.

“How do we know that you aren’t going to dissect us?” Tricia asked.

Mrs. Baker didn’t respond. At least not right away. Although that was a good thing. I mean, she was telling us serious information. And that meant at least pretending to be articulate. “That’s the last thing we want,” she said.

Okay. Good to know Mrs. Baker didn’t have malicious intentions.

“I was sent to Earth a decade ago to study how humans have evolved now that it’s the 21st century,” Mrs. Baker continued. “My people also knew that this day was coming long in advance, and I was instructed to save a few humans.”

“Is your husband an alien too?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Mrs. Baker.

“So that’s why you tried befriending Grandma so bad? Because you wanted a human to bring back?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes,” Mrs. Baker said. “I might not be from Earth. But personal connections are still nice, and saving a ‘friend’ would be a good thing.”

Tricia sneezed before speaking. “Who is flying the ship?”

“My husband,” Mrs. Baker interrupted. “Anyway, I have to go talk to him.” She pointed to the fridge and cabinets. “But help yourself to anything. And I promise you can ask me anymore questions you might have later since I have nothing to hide.”

Tricia forced a smile. “Thanks.”

Hmm. Then again, having questions was natural for Tricia.

The sound of Mrs. Baker’s flip flops squeaked across the floor as she left, and soon it was just Grandma, Tricia, and me.

“Do you trust her?” Tricia whispered to Grandma and me.

“It’s the only thing we can do. Like it or not, we would be dust without Mrs. Baker,” I said, using a hushed voice.

Tricia snickered. “If that’s her real name.”

“I agree with Duncan,” said Grandma. “We should relax. If she wanted to hurt us, she would have done so already.”

“I guess you have a point,” Tricia said, rolling her eyes.

Sure. Trusting Mr. and Mrs. Baker 100 percent might have been naïve, and Grandma, Tricia and I would have to be a little skeptical. But the universe was strange, as much as it was cruel.

Grandma squealed. “Just think of it as a fun adventure. I know I’ve always wanted to go on a cruise. And this is kind of like that, except we’re in space.”

Yeah. I could always count on Grandma for her zany lines and eccentricities if I got bored. I mean, it was nice knowing that certain aspects would remain the same despite the impending new adventure.

I also had a lot to be thankful for even if my future was a mystery. Tricia, Grandma, and I survived the apocalypse when everyone else perished. And maybe, just maybe, I was one percent more optimistic even if I would never completely lose my pessimistic personality. Because I could have died today. But I didn’t. So, I had something nice to say about the universe. Although I would deny it if someone ever asked me. Sure. Not worrying about applying to colleges or taking the SAT might have been nice. But it wasn’t like I would become “best friends” with the universe.

Plus, I also realized I didn’t need Dad in my life to complete it. Tricia and Grandma were enough.

 

 

 

 

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Chris Bedell

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