An end-of-the-world farce brought to you by 2011 Inlander Fiction Contest winner David Skies.
By David Skies
“And that was the sports. In other news, leading scientists worldwide have updated their observations on the massive chunk of flaming space debris, termed Eisenberg's Asteroid, which is currently hurtling towards Earth. Speaking on behalf of—oh, some organization or other—astrophysicist Ranulf Thormundson today stated that current calculations of the asteroid's trajectory give it a ninety-eight percent chance of direct impaction with the Earth sometime late this evening, with the other two percentile devoted to the celestial body's deflecting off our atmosphere like a flat rock on a still pond. When pressed for more information, Mr. Thormundson's scientific associates gibbered and wept openly.
“And now, today's weather, brought to you by Carcinogen brand cigarettes. Because if today was your last day on Earth, you'd want to spend it—
Suzanne fiddled with the kitchen radio until she found what sounded like a likely Guy Lombardo tune just starting up. At least, she thought it might be Guy Lombardo; Suzanne never paid much attention to music as more than the background noise of life. As a smooth voice began to implore her to enjoy herself while she still had time, she took her best knife from the block and ran it under the faucet out of habit. A quick wipe on the towel and she poised it over the cutting board, readied it above the pallid, pound-and-a-half of flesh that waited there—
“Well, Hi-Lo, neighbor!”
—And nearly sliced her own thumb off, as a woman's bottle-blonde head appeared in the open window to her right.
Suzanne bit back hard on a sudden, vicious upwelling of the kind of language that nobody would ever have suspected she knew. Language that was more verb than noun. Instead, she plastered on a smile that must have looked as painful as it felt.
“Goodness, Calpurnia,”she said around the ragged edges of the smile, “You startled me there.”
Calpurnia laughed; the high-pitched, tittering kind of laughter that most humans and the majority of the animal kingdom never indulge in, due to its being so ungodly irritating. “Oh, Suzie, always so high-strung! It's a wonder you don't snap like a garter on a water buffalo!”
Yes, a wonder isn't it? Without willing it, Suzanne's fingers tightened on the knife. “And what brings you to my . . . window, today?”Trespassing. You can shoot people for trespassing, can't you?
Rather than simply answer the question, like any normal person, the woman craned her neck through the window. “That's quite the slab of horseflesh there, Sue. Making something special?”
“Pork. We're having Cliff's parents over for supper this evening.”The Last Supper, is more like it, the way things are looking; though no one will say a word, oh no, not a word, other than Henrietta who will shriek complaints like always, while Clarence drinks all of our best red in an effort to drown her out, but not a single word in acknowledgement of the end of the goddamn world. Though, of course, I'm not saying any of this aloud either, so there.
“Oh? Well, dear, you know I don't like to say anything, but that's not really your strongest of the five food groups, is it? Again, I don't like say anything, but the pork roast you made for the last pot-luck seemed to be a tad on the dry side. Though maybe you like it that way, and who am I to say any different?”
Suzanne's smile tightened until it creaked at the corners. Dry? Calpurnia Dyer, the last time you baked a Thanksgiving turkey there was a drought across three counties. Your hideous Indian salt-shakers were rain-dancing around the centerpiece. Dry? Hah.
Like a mildly brain-damaged goldfinch that never alights anywhere for long, due to synapses misfiring every few seconds, the turkey dehydrator's thoughts suddenly fluttered to the topic of cataclysmic events.
“Have you heard about that comet thing, Suzie-Sue?”
No, I live under a rock. It's why I don't tan. And it's an asteroid, you twit. In point of fact, she could see it right now—an indistinct pinprick of mass hanging low in the early autumn sky behind Calpurnia's empty head, hazy around the edges, like a flyspeck on a camera lens that just wouldn't come off. It had been visible for several nights now, a new and fast-approaching star, catching and reflecting the light from an unseen sun, but this was the first time it shown itself in the daylight. The last time, too.
“It's quite the thing. A great big chunk of space rock, bearin' down like the wrathful finger of god. But don't you worry,”and here she assumed the golden glow of the self-righteously pious, even solemnly laying a hand over the place where other people had hearts, “I have been Praying.”
Oh, I pray too, every day. But you're still here, aren't you, you stupid bitch?
But, of course, she said none of this. Simply smiled and nodded; pretended to listen as the goldfinch carried Calpurnia back into the mystical realms of pork recipes; and stared unthinkingly toward death's inevitable arrival.
And all the while the radio played on, lyric and melody bleeding into Suzanne's subconscious like nothing had before, enjoining, entreating, demanding that she take whatever opportunities life presented whenever and wherever they were offered. Have I heard this before? Surely she had. But have I ever listened? Suddenly, the very air was heady, intoxicating, perfumed with the razor scent of revelation—and she knew what she had to do.
“Calpurnia,”she said, cutting through the woman's ceaseless stream of prattle. “I've just had a thought: what about plum sauce? I put up some preserves last fall, but, oh, you know I'm nowhere near as good at it as you. They've probably gone off by now. Do you suppose you could take a peek and see if they'd do? They're just down in the basement.”
A moment of clueless blinking, then, with an air of insufferable beneficence, “Why, Suzie, darling, of course I would. I can just imagine how difficult it might be for someone who's inexperienced.”
So, for the first time in her life, Suzanne happily let Calpurnia Dyer into her home, happily showed her to the stairs, happily led her to the darkest corner of the basement—
“Are you sure it's over here, Sue? I can't see a thing.”
—All while happily hiding her best kitchen knife within a fold of her dress.
Calpurnia never knew what hit her.
In the chest and upper abdomen.
And once in the shoulder; because, well, it was dark.
Tammy Luzzati and Suzanne's son Gene were studying the human reproductive system in all its disgustingly intimate detail when she burst in. Tammy squeaked like a guinea pig being steam-rolled and vanished beneath the bedsheets, leaving Gene—abruptly made aware that his was a bed not strictly made for two—to jerk the comforter up to his waist, every inch of visible skin quickly darkening to something not far removed from the fuchsia of the downstairs loveseat.
“Oh, don't mind me,”Suzanne said brightly, striding across the room. “I'll be out of your hair in just a minute; then you two can go at it like rabbits for all I care.”She began rummaging through the disorganized innards of Gene's closet. “Ordinarily, I'd caution you not to injure yourself with anything strenuous—heaven knows the only kind of scholarship you're getting into college with is a baseball one—but considering the unlikeliness of there being either colleges or baseball this time tomorrow, I can't find it in me to admonish you. Though, of course, if you'd gotten her pregnant, well, I would have castrated you with rusty garden shears—but that's all moot now.”She came up hefting a baseball bat, “Now if you'll excuse me, I have something to tenderize.”
Halfway out the door, she added, “Oh, and Gene? There's ten dollars in my purse by the door, why don't you two go out for dinner and movie? I don't think you'll want to be here for supper.”
Three whole minutes passed, before a voice from under the covers said:
“So, watcha wanna see?”
Overall, Suzanne thought supper turned out well. Henrietta, of course, harped that the meat was over-seasoned to the point of being indistinguishable as actual food, which, in all fairness, was probably true. It did take an awful lot of marinading to mask the flavor of rat poison and a cocktail of household cleaners.
Luckily, all the busywork of getting people served disguised the fact that she hadn't had a bite herself.
Henrietta was the first to go, as Suzanne had hoped she would be. One minute she was criticizing the cut and fabric of the drapes—the next she was choking and clawing at her throat as her windpipe closed up. Or whatever it was all that crud did to you. She just pretended it was the drapes inducing a coronary.
Next was Clarence, who she'd never had anything particular against, but “collateral damage”and all that. He spared the theatrics and simply slumped forward onto the table, spilling his wine and sending a red stain spreading across the ivory linen. Weak heart, Clarence. Too much drinking.
Finally, Clifford. Oh, Clifford. He began to choke at the same time as his mother, but—and she remembered like it was yesterday—Clifford had been quite the football star in high school. Clifford managed to lurch out of his chair, only to collapse immediately. Then Clifford began to crawl.
That's when the golf club came out.
Suzanne had intended to speechify, had had an entire list of grievances to expound upon, but all she managed to get out was, “Cliff, darling, remember our fifth anniversary? When you spent the day golfing, instead of acknowledging the inconvenient fact of our marriage? I thought not.”
And, yes, he may have stopped moving after the first dozen blows to the head, but better safe than sorry.
For their seventh anniversary, Clifford had decided, of all things, to take Suzanne duck-hunting. And, as duck-hunting consisted mostly of waiting around for ducks to not show up, Suzanne had actually managed to learn a thing or two. Like how to properly maintain and fire a 12 gauge over/under shotgun.
Strange, it had never come in handy before.
First to go was Clifford's midlife crisis-mobile; stupid, ridiculous, useless sports car—always breaking down. She dared it to recover from two barrels of buckshot through the radiator.
Next was Caroline Munroe's prize-winning potted begonias across the street; and the smug old biddy too, when she came out to screech at her from the porch. No more county fairs for you, hag.
The pace only increased from there.
Isaiah Winthrop, who'd drunkenly groped, and then thrown up on her, two new year's eves ago.
Janice Mitchell, Cliff's former secretary, whom she was certain he'd slept with at least twice.
The pharmacist who routinely shortchanged her.
That horrible schnauzer, two blocks over, who always barked at her.
The boy she suspected of egging her windows last Halloween.
And so on.
Trough deepening gloom, Suzanne wound her way randomly through the evening streets, dispensing haphazard vengeance upon whomever came to mind. From the distance came evidence of similar endeavors pursued: screams and shots, the shriek of sirens, occasionally a glimpse of flashing lights, though none ever came near. Once she saw a woman in gingham check carrying a hunting rifle. They nodded to each other, and passed on.
It was full dark when the roaring began, like the sky being torn asunder.
The roaring that grew and grew.
Just like the asteroid overhead.
Coming down the end it all.
Then receding again.
As it skipped off the atmosphere.
Suzanne stood silent, watching the glow of ionized particulate fading in the sky, while terrible realization coalesced in scattered thoughts.