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Suspense Sad

Ping!

 Susan’s phone goes off in the centre of the table. Everyone can see the phone blink to life, the bright light casting a shadow across the breadbasket. Nobody acknowledges it.

 Peter clears his throat. “So, how was your presentation on Monday, Benny?” he directs to his son at the other end of the table. 

 “It was on Tuesday, Dad,” Benny says around a mouthful of peas. 

 “Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Susan admonishes.

 “Sorry. It was fine. I got a B.”

 “Well, a B is nothing to sniff at,” Peter says warmly, raising his glass of wine at his son with a smile. “How about you, Caitlin? You had an essay due this week, didn’t you?”

 Caitlin is staring down at her plate of meatloaf, her hair hanging down in a curtain of dirty blonde. Her loud laugh and bubbly chatter are painfully missing, but no mentions it. “I didn’t do it,” she says in a monotone voice.

Ping! 

 Susan’s phone goes off again. Again, it is ignored.

 “What do you mean, you didn’t do it?” Peter asks. His eyebrows have drawn down into his “stern father” frown. 

 “Well, there was hardly any point, don’t you think?” she says, looking up at her family threateningly, as if daring them to disagree.

 Bzzz Bzzz

 Caitlin’s phone goes off, as if agreeing with her.

 Susan clears her throat loudly, her eyes wide and frantic. She snatches the breadbasket and waves it around in the air. “Bread!” she almost shrieks. “Anyone want more bread?”

 Peter places a calming hand on top of her own. “I wonder if Wheel of Fortune will be on tonight.”

 “I doubt it,” Caitlin says under her breath. Susan whimpers under her own. 

 Benny dutifully takes a slice of bread and butters it up with a two-inch thick coating. Nobody says anything. 

 “This meatloaf is divine, darling,” Peter says to Susan as he takes a large mouthful. It isn’t though; everyone at the table struggles to chew through the leathery crust of burnt meat. 

 “Thank you. And this wine you bought pairs with it brilliantly.”

 “Stop it!” Caitlin snaps, throwing down her knife and fork. The table wobbles slightly under her anger. "This is so messed up! Why are we doing this? Can't any of you see how crazy this is!" There is a manic edge to her voice; her eyes betraying the fear that is gripping her.

 "There is nothing else that we can do, sweetie," Susan says with a soothing voice that wavers slightly. Everyone hears it.

 Brrp! Brrp!

 Benny's phone now. He squirms in his seat.

 "I can't just sit here and eat meatloaf and pretend that this isn't happening!" Caitlin yells. She jumps to her feet and goes to saunter out of the room before Peter's booming voice stops her in her tracks.

 "Don't you dare leave this room!" His voice is so loud that both Susan and Benny jump. Everyone's nerves are already on edge, the sudden roaring voice sending their heart rates sky high. "You will come back here this instant and sit down and eat your dinner with your family! I will NOT have you up in your room all on your own. We are in this together, whether you like it or not."

 Brrp! Brrp!

 Peter has never raised his voice to his children. A soft and gentle man by nature, Peter has always taken a calm approach to parenting his two lively children. The sound of his bellowing voice shocks everyone; no one more so than Peter himself.

 There is silence at the dinner table as Caitlin takes her seat once more. She picks up her knife and fork in shaking hands, wiping away her tears with the sleeve of one arm. Benny discreetly reaches out and rubs her back in solidarity. She doesn't look at him.

 A siren begins to blare outside. It is distant but reverberatingly deep. Everyone can feel a slight tremor under their feet. Benny whimpers. Susan louds sniffs. Peter takes a deep breath and lets it out shakily. Caitlin cries.

 Drrng! Drrng! Drrng!

 Peter's phone goes off now.

 Ping!

 Susan's.

 Bzz Bzz!

 Caitlin's.

 Brrp! Brrp!

 Benny's.

 All four phones begin to trill in sync. People are shouting outside on the street, screaming in fear and panic. Peter solemnly gets out of his seat and closes the curtains to the outside. He sits back down and reaches out to his wife. They clasp hands and squeeze tightly. Susan reaches out to Benny and takes his hand, who in turn grabs the hand of his sister. Peter offers his hand to Caitlin to complete the circle, but she is crying so hard now that she can't see the proffered hand. He takes it anyway.

The McKinnon family sit at their dinner table, hands entwined as a solid unit. Their heads hang low, as if in prayer as they await the inevitable. Each of them is openly crying now. The fear at the table is palpable.

 "I love you all," Susan whispers through her shaking tears. "I have loved being your mother and wife. It has been an honour to watch you both grow into the beautiful teenagers that you have become."

 Caitlin wails and tries to take her hands away but both Peter and Benny don't let go.

 "I agree with your mother," Peter says now. "You are both such wonderful children and I love the both of you dearly." He looks up to Susan and meets her tear-filled eyes. How many times had he looked into the endless blue of her gaze over the last 20 years? Thousands. He has treasured every shared look, every darting glance and cheeky wink they have shared. "I love you so much, Suse. You have been the wife that every man wishes for. You have made this family; you are this family. I cannot thank you enough for blessing me with everything I could have ever asked for."

 Susan sobs now, unable to answer through the wracking tears.

 Benny speaks now, his voice barely audible. "I love you guys."

 Caitlin can't speak at all.

 Ping!

 Bzz Bzz

 Brrp! Brrp!

 Drrng Drrng!

 The screams are getting louder and louder outside the house. More frantic than ever. The phones are now going off in a constant array of noise. The siren is blaring, louder and louder.

 The meatloaf grows cold and uneaten on the fine china plates. It is the first time in years that Susan has gotten the wedding china out of the cabinet. She had been meaning to save them for special occasions and was saddened to see the thick coating of dust that had blanketed them. Why hadn't they had more special occasions? Why hadn't they had family over for dinner more often? Why had they never hosted a dinner party? So much wasted time. So many unmade memories.

 Peter looks at his son and feels a stabbing in his heart at the lost potential. Just 14 years old, with so much life ahead of him that has been wiped away. He had a career in baseball ahead of him -- Peter could tell. He had a talent with a bat that Peter had never seen before, as if it were an extension of his arm, an extra limb. He never missed a ball. Each ball sent hurtling into the bleachers.

Benny doesn't think of baseball. He thinks of Roscoe out there somewhere in the streets, terrified and alone. At the first sounding of the siren, the McKinnon's black Labrador had gotten spooked and escaped out the back door. Benny had tried to go after him, but his father had forbidden him. "There isn't anytime, Ben," he had said sadly. Benny will take his resentment to the grave.

Caitlin mourns the loss of her friends. Maddie, Taylor, Ebony and Rachel are out there, maybe in their homes, maybe out on the streets or in bunkers, awaiting the storm. Each of them had made a pledge to find each other if they were to survive. It had been an empty promise.

 Everyone had heard the news reports. A meteorite the size of Australia was set on a direct path to Earth. No one had been able to see the asteroid coming. Materialising in the blink of an eye, like a predator stepping out of the shadows to launch at prey. Inevitable collision was in 3 days times. Conspiracy theories were rife, but a day later the temperature around the globe skyrocketed to unprecedented highs. Sea levels were reported to have risen dangerously high as the polar ice caps melted -- disintegrated like candy floss dropped in water. It became startlingly obvious that the asteroid was coming, and it was coming fast.

 Different people had different plans for their last day on Earth. Some people denied it right up to the very end, others accepted their fate and chose to spend their last moments in worship to their gods. Others, like the McKinnon’s, chose to spend their last moments with their families. Peter and Susan wanted to have one last meal together as a family. Something mundane and ordinary, nothing special or momentous. Just being with each other, ending the way they had spent the last 17 years, together. Caitlin had wanted to be with friends, Benny with the dog, but their parents had been adamant. The McKinnon’s would stick together, until the very end. 

The temperature in the house suddenly spiked into unbearable heat. Sweat began to pour from each family member as the screams and wails from outside reached a crescendo. A calmness descended over Susan as the end drew near.

 "I will see you all soon," she said in a soft voice.

 Peter looked over at her and saw the peace in her eyes. It washed over him, too, and he smiled back at her warmly. "I'll be waiting for you on the other side."

 Caitlin sobbed. "I'm so scared, Mommy," she said. She hadn't called Susan mommy in years. It felt fitting to be saying it now.

 "You are allowed to be scared, honey. But it will be over in the blink of an eye. And then we will be together again, okay? Hold on to that."

 The words soothed both Caitlin and Benny. They looked at each other and smiled. "You better not be so annoying in the afterlife," Caitlin said to Benny with a nudge of her elbow into his ribs. He laughed through a sniffle.

A sudden deafening roar rent the very air around them in two. A heat unknown to man blasted the Earth, setting everything a blaze as a wall of inexplicable pressure flattened the very earth itself before a fiery ball of molten rock ripped open the sky and decimated life itself.

 The McKinnon's left this life hand in hand. Their hearts were calm, their souls accepting as they passed from one life to the next.

 "That wasn't so bad," Susan said as she met with her family on the other side.

December 14, 2023 23:20

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2 comments

Kristi Gott
05:49 Dec 21, 2023

This is a uniquely developed story with an originality in the approach to the last days and the Afterlife. Well done!

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AnneMarie Miles
03:25 Dec 19, 2023

The suspense is built up so nicely here. The pinging and buzzing of the phones was a nice sensory touch and it made me curious. First, with just Susan's, I thought maybe she was having an affair and this was their last meal before that was revealed. But once they all started going off, it was clear something bigger was happening. With all the subtle hints you gave, my curiosity only intensified. I like the idea of a family sticking together until the very end. I've seen various scenes like this occur in movies and I think you captured the sa...

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