The illness burned through my home like a forest fire.
The twins were the first to fall; their once rosy cheeks struck pale by an unseen killer. Foreheads burned and toes curled and their mother and I watched helplessly. Hopelessly. No Doctor would come; most were waist-deep in the afflicted, if not sick themselves.
We were utterly alone.
We buried our boys in the yard. There were no church services anymore; no tearful eulogizing; no remembrances carved into stone. They looked like baby birds—tiny and featherless; two one-year-old brothers who would never grow to fight over personal space, musical tastes, or who had rights to the car on a Friday night.
Then our five-year-old daughter collapsed after trying to tie her shoes.
My wife couldn’t look out the kitchen window, nor walk through the backdoor. She couldn’t bear the sight of those three little graves all in a row. I’d planted flowers on the mounds—happy, bright ones that might have pleased the children; but that made it worse somehow.
The love of my life wanted to die. And so did I.
The terrible irony was that neither of us got sick. The plague that had cut the world’s populace in half, slaying the elderly and the young indiscriminately, neglected to finish what it had started. Life clung to us like a pestilence. We couldn’t shake it. We drank and smoked and joylessly indulged in all of the things we’d denied ourselves for years. I even managed to score some smack from a low-life that haunted the canals near our home. We dropped, injected, and even snorted the shit, and yet we lived on.
Cursed to suffer forevermore.
My wife left me on Christmas morning. She packed a bag and walked out into the apocalypse. I can’t even bear to say her name, let alone those of my children. For days I wandered the house, lingering in doorways and peering in on the places that once brimmed with life. I was now caretaker to the museum of my former life, though, I wanted to resign from the role. So, I smashed a case of Single Malt on the kitchen floor and flicked a lit cigarette into the rapidly spreading pool.
I don’t recall being rescued.
My bare feet were burnt and the fabric of my jeans had fused to the flesh in places. It was early morning and the dew-laden grass felt good on my skin. Someone was dragging me to safety. I lay on the lawn of the house across the street from mine and watched the flames consume my past. Then I rolled over and coughed until my stomach hurt.
‘The Fates have smiled on you,’ said my savior warmly.
I looked up and blinked soot from my eyes. ‘Have they?’ I replied. I grabbed the hand extended to me and rose to my feet.
‘My name is ‘D’, and we’re leaving this place. You coming?’
I wanted to make my excuses and slip away into the dark. Hell, I had no need to proffer made-up reasons at all. But when I looked into D’s face, every possible objection escaped me. I couldn’t help but want to see where the guy was going and I couldn’t pinpoint why. I did, however, have a follow-up question. ‘Who’s we?’
D extended a pale arm south. Huddled together under a street light was a band of twenty-odd folks from all over the neighborhood. The group was comprised of varying ages and backgrounds and I twigged at that moment: out of all the people in the community I’d grown up in, this was all there was left.
I was absorbed into the throng.
We walked slowly but purposefully—there was enough liquor still in my system to delay the onset of pain. D appeared to know what he was doing and I was happy to defer all decision making to him. I guessed each and every one of my traveling companions felt the same. I exchanged pleasantries with some, made introductions with others. Some I’d gone to school with and others I’d never laid eyes on until this day.
An hour or so into our procession of lost souls, I began to watch D closely. He sauntered along the middle of the empty road with quiet dignity. The fabric of his verdant shirt flapped in the breeze like the robes of a priest and his long, dark hair danced with each step. Even his worn jeans seemed regal. He was taller than average. Tall and broad—unusually so. I figured it would have taken several of us to restrain him.
I was always a cynic. And I was usually right about people.
I could take it no more. ‘So, has anyone asked where we’re going, or are they too sheepish?’ I enquired of D, sidling up to him at the front of the group.
‘I’ve never had a problem with beasts of the field. Sheep included. Wine?’ D proffered a leather flask and I took it eagerly. I popped the cork, stopping to sniff at the vessel’s mouth.
‘It’s not poisoned.’
‘I’m quitting drinking anyway,’ I lied, handing the flask back.
‘There’s no longer a need for questions. We’ve arrived.’
I looked ahead to the monument that stood before us. The obelisk pointed heavenward and D looked up in the same direction as he addressed his small crowd of followers. The sun rose behind him and all were engulfed by dappled light the color of blood. D gesticulated and the band gasped as the ground shook and the sky split down the middle, revealing the vast expanse of things beyond. Heaven. This person, this entity, was taking us to heaven.
D ushered his flock into the firmament’s great wound and they each smiled at me as they passed. Their faith had been rewarded; their unwavering, unquestioning devotion had paid its dividends. When I was the last one left, I feared for my soul.
‘I’m the lone voice of doubt,’ I said. ‘No one else questioned you.’
D nodded and clapped his large hands together and there were screams as the group was beset by horn, hoof, and tail. Unspeakable horrors converged, tearing skin, cleaving bone, and reveling in the joy of it. D smiled as he healed the gash in the world’s fabric like someone might zip up the front of a tent.
I'm still here, writing my account if anyone's left to read it. Life still clings to me, despite my best efforts.
Though my eagerness for death is diminished somewhat.