by Leonard Henry Scott
There was a big notice in the paper this morning announcing that the world would be ending today. The notice took up a quarter of the front page of The Times (below the fold) and read in bold letters.
“We regret to announce that due to administrative considerations the world will be ending today, at 3:30 p.m. Prior to closeout, we will be efforting to obtain additional population data needed to complete the final record, a kind of head count so to speak.
Thank you for your service. ”
WPPQ TV 4 made this special announcement every hour, beginning on their popular Sunny Morning Wake-up Show; “World predicted to end this afternoon about 3:30 pm. Details at six”.
This was shocking news to most people.
Naturally, many did wonder; “Is it really true, or is it just some new kind of fake news?”
All morning on the cable news experts pontificated, officials bloviated, theologians extrapolated, journalists reported, citizens opined and pollsters polled. In very short order, on the basis of all available information, the pollsters (the most important group) concluded that the report of the world’s imminent demise was certifiably believed to be 73.7% accurate.
So, that was that.
Notwithstanding that being that, the very notion of the end of the world caught most people by surprise, although some had been expecting it for some time. Very few of the certified 73.7% who believed that the world would be ending this very day as reported knew quite what to do. Some made hasty preparations to flee to Peru, or Tahiti, or Patagonia, or other such places, all of which (by the way) were coincidentally on the same predicted to be imminently ending world in question.
Throngs of people ventured at once to crowded places of worship to spend those precious final hours in prayer or silent reflection. Others sat together quietly at home ensconced in the warmth and comfort of their loved ones. Some (a statistically significant group) gathered before the TV to eat take out Kung Pao Chicken or pizza as they caught up with the latest updates and waited for the six o’clock news.
For some (especially those hamstrung by overbearing dietary constraints) what to do, what to do – wasn’t a problem at all, it was an opportunity. Why not eat two orders of cheese fries with bacon bits (slathered with mayonnaise) along with a whole mess of double extra crispy fried chicken and mashed potatoes sopping with gravy. And then wash it all down with a quart of bourbon and two packs of cigarettes?
Why the hell not?
There had been mention of some efforting efforts to obtain data for the final record. Most people were accounted for. However, there was a certain, particular group for whom population data was persistently insufficient. They always seemed to be moving. In fact, they moved around so much and intentionally kept their heads down. Many did not have long-term addresses or bank accounts. They moved around constantly, always paying cash to avoid being tracked by creditors, ex-spouses and the IRS. They were elusive as unicorns.
Despite all that effort, life for them usually boiled down to a constant series of brilliant ideas followed closely by spectacular failures. One week they were selling non-stick frying pans in a Denver shopping mall, the next hawking Christmas trees in the gloom and rain of an unseasonably warm Cincinnati suburb. But nothing ever quite worked out. Frying pan handles fell off in the middle of demonstrations. Christmas trees were plagued by unpleasant boring insects. So, they would move on to the next town and the next dream.
Little was known of them, except for one thing. They really, really loved a good party. In light of that, Big Bank Stadium was rented to lure those folks into one place so their heads could be finally counted. And by noon EST on TDOTEOTW (an initialism, not an acronym) ETA 3:30 pm) the party was in full swing.
Dangerously amped up bands played ear-shattering music, punctuated sharply by the occasional semi-melodic sound of a distant vuvuzela. The International Bedding and Furniture Company provided lampshades for wearing and tables for dancing on. Happy party goers in free grass skirts, muumuus and aloha shirts, generously fueled with giant Margaritas, pranced outlandishly around in conga lines. Great storms of celebratory streamers stuck to their hair and tickled their necks amid a rumbling indefinable din and constant thunder clap of music. Big Bank Stadium shook and swayed in this raucous farewell to life as the crowd prepared to rocket blissfully into the unknown.
Then at 3:25 p.m. all at once everything stopped when a voice came from above. And despite the loud music, the tumultuous noise and the jostling and the dancing, everybody heard it.
said the voice.
That single word rang clear and true as if the speaker was standing right next to each person with liquid lips pressed in a tickle against their ears. The music stopped and so did the party. And everyone just stood silently gazing up at the sky. But there was nothing special to see there, save a large yellow sun escorted by a few white puffy clouds.
“It’s almost time.” the voice said.
Then, after a brief silence one person in the crowd spoke bravely to the sky.
“Is it really the end of the world?”
“Yes,” said the voice.
“What will become of us?” They asked.
“I really couldn’t say.” The voice replied noncommittally.
“Look, you could go up. You could go down. Up is good but it’s easier to get into Harvard. You Do Not want to go down. Down is bad. But truthfully, most of you will probably wind up in the middle. There’s a big middle place. The food’s pretty good and you can still get cable.”
The sun glowed brighter than before and there was something else different. Next to the sun was a long pull chain with a giant rabbit’s foot at the end of it. Was this something new, or had it been there all along obscured by clouds? They didn’t know. But there it was.
“Hold very still for just a moment and I’ll show you a trick.”
The voice said and everyone complied.
They all stood stiff and still as mannequins in the echoing eerie silence of Big Bank Stadium. Flocks of runaway streamers swirled around in the disobedient breeze.
“….23, 673, 89, 6…56…Okay, got it!”
The voice said with great satisfaction.
“Now, watch this trick!”
The clock in the tower at the end of Big Bank Stadium said 3:30 in toddler-sized Roman numerals. At that very moment, a giant hand reached out from behind a cloud, pulled the chain and turned off the sun.
Instantly, the world was plunged into a frigid darkness.
Like a vast colony of meerkats, they all stood stiff and silent, ears perked to the wind, big eyes intently staring into the empty darkness. By the thousands they stood all together, yet each stood alone silently counting off the last remaining moments and reviewing the toll of their lives. A piercing cold wind rushed through every crack and corner of Big Bank Stadium. It swelled up and churned around them, and swallowed them up like a dark sea.
“Thank you for your service,” said the voice as it trailed off into the harrowing blackness.
Leonard Henry Scott was born and raised in the Bronx and is a graduate of American University. His fiction has appeared in The Chamber Magazine, Good Works Review, Straylight Magazine, The MacGuffin, Mystery Tribune and elsewhere.
Inspired by the Star Trek Q Continuum. One divine entity might have created the universe. But in light of its incredible vastness, day-to-day management of the universe by a corporation of gods would seem to be a practical idea. Various gods would be assigned areas of responsibility, like regional managers. And of course, this corporation would be subject to some of the same problems that affect other corporations.