Time for another one of Chuck Wendig‘s flash fiction challenges. This one was a random title roll.
My roll yielded “Endless Eschaton”.
Yes, I had to look up “eschaton”. It means “end times”.
Endless end times. All right. Let’s do this.
Warning: it gets dark, and there’s some language.
“Damn world’s going to hell by high-speed rail.” My great uncle shakes out his newspaper and turns the page.
I roll my eyes as I put the juice back into the fridge. “What is it this time? Gay marriage? Or maybe another epileptic started smoking pot?” Why does he keep up with the news? It only pisses him off.
“Don’t be such a smart ass, Dani.” He sips his coffee and winces, like it tastes bad. “These are all signs, you know. The birthing pains. Society’s collapsing in on itself, fully funded by our government.”
Ugh, not this again. “Yeah. I know. End times. Got it. I’m late for school. I’d like to get there before the rapture.” I slug my juice before picking up my backpack and walking out the door.
Shay can apparently read my expression before I reach her car. “Uh oh. Bad day with the uncle?”
I fall into the passenger seat. “Same old crap. Let’s go.”
“Has he always been this obsessed? How’s his bunker coming along?”
I glare at her.
If only she were joking.
I pull my phone from my pocket and check my texts. “If the world’s gonna end soon, I wish it would just end. Like everyone’s been predicting for centuries. This is only the longest apocalypse ever.”
She laughs again. “How does your aunt fit into all this?”
“I think she’s just riding out the crazy. He gets himself so worked up about everything. We just stay out of the way.” Well, my aunt does. I like to antagonize my uncle.
We arrive at the school in just enough time to run to chemistry. Shay and I had made a point of having our first class together, though I don’t think she cares about chemistry. I catch her copying from my paper as I balance chemical equations.
English and Geography are as boring as ever, and just before lunch, my phone vibrates in my pocket. My great aunt’s name lights the screen. She never calls me when I’m at school.
“Dani, you need to come to the hospital. Your uncle’s had a heart attack.” She sounds oddly calm.
I stand in place in the middle of hallway, blinking for lack of a better response.
“Are you there?” she asks.
“Oh. Yeah. When?”
“About an hour ago.”
Bodies push against me as students rush to lunch or to their next class, oblivious to my presence or to the fact that the man who took me in after my mom lost her grip on reality could be dead. My aunt didn’t say if he survived.
Maybe I should have been nicer to him this morning.
“Is he okay?” Stupid question, but it was better than asking what I wanted to ask.
She sighs. “Just come to the hospital. Call me when you get here.”
The hallway clears but I stand there, staring at my phone.
My brain finally engages. I have to find Shay.
She’s in the food line. I pull her out and tell her I need a ride.
Thirty minutes later, I’m looking at someone who could be my uncle. It’s hard to tell with all the tubes, wires, and monitors. He’s frail, not at all like the man who wrapped his big arms around me after he pulled me out of my mother’s house.
A doctor enters and talks to me. My uncle is brain dead, she says. The machines are keeping him alive.
My aunt stands over him, staring but not crying. Why isn’t she crying?
She touches his cheek with the back of her fingers.
He was so worried about everything. We couldn’t live too far away from a hospital or pharmacy. We had to know how to make jerky, in case we needed to survive after the virus or the nuclear attack or whatever. Last year, I told him I’d happily become a zombie. He didn’t laugh. I thought it was funny.
I chuckle under my breath at the memory.
What kind of time is this to be laughing?
My aunt signs a paper, and the doctor turns off the machines as I stand next to the bed. My uncle’s appearance doesn’t change.
He believed in God and heaven. I try to imagine his spirit leaving his body and floating into the sky.
My aunt and I go home, silent for the duration of the trip.
She still doesn’t cry.
Instead of heading to my room, I go downstairs, to the basement. My uncle had showed me where he hid the key to his bunker, in a secret compartment in the doorframe.
I open the door, replace the key, flip a switch, and a long fluorescent light flickers on, illuminating the year’s supply of canned food and dry goods.
It all seems so silly now.
I pull the door closed behind me and lie on the floor, curled on my side. I stare at several boxes of powdered milk. One in the back is open.
That doesn’t make sense. Nothing’s supposed to be open down here.
I pull the box towards me and examine it, looking at the open flap and sniffing it.
It smells noxious. Like a strong chemical.
The door opens and footsteps approach from behind me.
I look up at my aunt and gesture to the box. “Do you know what this is?”
She nods. “Of course I do.”
A moment later, she’s holding a metal bat over my head. The moment after that, darkness.
My uncle was right. The end was closer than I thought.