Melancholia never saw Hex coming as she ran down the community centre hallway. He slammed into her with enough force to send her bodily into the peeling brick wall, a blow strong enough to break a normal person’s bones. She bounced off the wall and recovered almost immediately, drawing herself up with a snarl.
“What the hell, Hex–”
“–shhh!–” Hex hissed at her. His wide eyes darted left and right.
“–I swear I’m going to tear you in half–”
“–please, Mel! Just shut up and listen for a moment!”
She bared her teeth, but her features softened when she saw the manic state he was in. His disheveled hair reminded her of the vagrants that used to live in the community centre, before Melancholia and Hex and the others claimed it. “All right,” she said, then she gingerly prodded her top right fang, making sure it wasn’t loose. “You have three seconds. Then I’ll tear you in half.” Hex was trembling. “Friggin’ Jesus, Hex. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Something’s seriously wrong,” Hex said. Their hallway led to a corridor which led outside. He inched along the wall and peeked into the corridor, then immediately recoiled with a hiss. He buried his eyes in his palms. “I don’t know what’s going on, Mel. I think I just saw Worm… uh… die. Like die-die.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Don’t you see all that ash on the ground?” Hex waved to the corridor. A mess of ash lay scrambled on the floor, illuminated by some distant light. “Don’t you see that bright spot?”
The beam of bright cast on the ground was strong enough Melancholia had to squint. “Yeah? So? It’s probably lights from the strip club across the street.”
“I don’t think so,” Hex said. He blinked the last of the irritation out of his eyes. Then he leaned closer to her and whispered, “I think it’s the sun.”
Melancholia was silent for just a heartbeat. “Bull.” She checked her wristwatch. “Total bull. It’s seven friggin’ pee-em. It’s night time. Our time.”
Hex was going to say something more but then they heard voices coming from further in the community centre. Four of the others rounded a corner and again Hex’s eyes widened. He blocked their path, held his hands out. “Wait! You can’t go out there!”
Lilith laughed at him and Asmodeus sneered. “Shut up, nerd.” He grabbed Hex by the collar and threw him into – and through – some dented lockers. Then Lilith and Asmodeus both laughed and ran into the corridor leading outside. As soon as they rounded the corner they each let out an otherworldly shriek, followed by a dull pop and a flash of light, not unlike a giant fart hitting a match. Next came a gentle whoosh and a mist of smoldering black embers filling the air, which turned to bitter grey ash as they hit the ground.
Melancholia screamed. Hex screamed. Everyone screamed.
They screamed for a good long while, looking at each other and screaming “What the hell!?” and “What was that!?” and “What just happened!?” over and over. Finally Hex shouted over them, “Guys guys guys!” and for a moment they all stopped panicking.
“Guys,” he said, “this is really bad! We have to figure this out. Tim, you’re smart. What do you think is going on?”
Tim’s shock faded, replaced with a scowl. “Damn it, Hex. That’s not my name anymore and you know it. I’m Umbranocturnius Tenebridominus!”
Hex resisted rolling his eyes. “Fine, sorry, whatever. Can we please just focus? People are dying!”
“Right,” said Umbra-who-was-no-longer-Tim. “So let’s go over the facts. We just saw Asmodeus and Lilith burst into ash. Not much of a loss, really, other than the existential threat to ourselves.”
“Umbra!” Melancholia said. “Have some respect. Besides… it happened to Worm too.”
“Worm! Really?” Umbra said.
“Yeah,” Hex said.
Anticelestia, who had been mostly silent until then, let out a long, irritating whine. “I’m getting hungry. I want to go outside.”
“You can’t, Cel,” Hex said.
“Because,” he took a deep breath, “the sun is still up.” They all looked at him, weighing the ridiculousness of the idea against what they had just witnessed. “At least, I think that’s what’s happening. It’s bright out. The sun… it didn’t set. It just didn’t set today.”
“By all that’s unholy,” Umbra whispered. “It’s the end of days.”
“Oh my god!” Anticelestia wailed. She dropped to her knees, clasped her hands together, and started praying at machine gun pace. She prayed to the good lord for her (un-)life, for food, for night, for Asmodeus – but not Lilith – and for a dozen other things.
“What are you doing?” Umbra said. “Have you lost your mind? We have a crisis and you’re crawling on the floor, babbling about supernatural rubbish?”
Anticelestia glared up at him. “Supernatural rubbish? This, coming from you? Have you already forgotten summer – just a couple months ago! – when a creepy old man bit you in the face and you woke up a living corpse?”
“I–” Umbra stammered. “Well, that’s different! That actually happened! I’m real. I’m not supernatural. And anyway, even if god was real, why the hell do you think he’d help the likes of us? We’re literally the damned! For crap’s sake, you kill people!”
“Just the ones that deserve it,” Anticelestia said through gritted teeth. “Besides, ‘ask and you shall receive,’ right? It’s worth a shot.”
Umbra was going to say something more but Hex interrupted. “Guys! Please! This is serious!” They turned their anger down to a simmer and gave Hex their attention. “Now, I know we’re all frightened, and I know we’re all hungry. But fighting amongst ourselves isn’t going to fix anything. Please. We need… we need to know what’s going on. We need ideas. Umbra, you said something about the end of days?”
“Yes,” Umbra said, narrowing his eyes. “It was just an expression, but…” He started pacing, wagging his finger as he talked. “But now that I think about it, I think there’s truth in it. The end of days. Right? Get it? The sun has stopped setting, which means days have stopped happening. Or rather, we’re stuck on this, the last day. Permanent daylight.”
“So we’re screwed,” Melancholia said.
“Maybe,” Umbra said. He tapped his lips. “The sun has stopped setting… here. It’s permanent daylight, here. But that means that somewhere else in the world, the sun has stopped rising. Somewhere else, it’s permanent night.” He smiled.
Anticelestia giggled and thanked the lord, and Melancholia said, “That… sounds amazing! That’d be like paradise!”
Hex crossed his arms. “Nobody has ever proved the Earth is round–”
“Oh, do shut up,” Umbra said, rounding on him. “The Earth is not flat and this is not the time. Do you have a better idea?”
Hex chewed on his words for a moment. “Fine. Whatever. Let’s say your little theory is right. Where would this other place be?”
Umbra scratched his chin. “I’m not sure, but I’d wager… China?”
Hex snorted. “Super. So, like, what, we just get in the car and drive to China?”
“Precisely,” Umbra said. Then he raised his hand to forestall any arguments. “Not directly, of course. But we can drive down to the docks and sneak on one of those cargo ships. The holds are big, dark. It could work.”
For a moment, nobody spoke. The plan was a long shot but not out of the realm of the possible, and the promise of eternal night was terribly alluring. And on the other hand, the prospect of doing nothing and either burning to death or descending into blood madness was a great motivator.
“So, how would we get there?” Anticelestia finally asked. “It all sounds good, except we’re nowhere near the docks. We’d still have to go outside.”
Hex scratched his neck. “You know, Dagon has that car of his. The one with the tinted windows. Maybe… maybe it would be enough?”
“We can cover ourselves too,” Umbra said. “Like, everywhere. Blankets, hats, gloves. Sunglasses. Leave no skin exposed. I mean, we got all those dead people clothes.”
“You think that will work?” Anticelestia asked.
“I… I think so,” Umbra said. “I have a theory. Anyway, we don’t have much of a choice.”
“We can use sunscreen too,” Melancholia said. “I got cases of the stuff.”
“Good call,” Hex said. Then another silence, the prospect of this actually happening looming before them. “So, we doing this?”
Everyone agreed with a cheer, and they burst into action. A renewed spirit animated their every motion, and they tore through the community centre, packing as many supplies as they could, slathering themselves with whole bottles of sunscreen, and draping themselves head to foot with multiple layers of clothes.
In a way, it reminded them of the past summer, of that fateful camping trip that was supposed to be a way to reconnect at the end of the season. All in all, considering one of the unholy children of the night had basically murdered them all and turned them into soulless monsters, it was a mediocre vacation. But it had been good while it was good, and now, going through the same manic steps, it rekindled some of those last moments of life in their still hearts. It was exciting and exhilarating, a bittersweet memory of what once was, and for a blessed moment they were just a group of friends again, going on wild adventures on the untamed frontiers of life.
Hex grabbed the keys to Dagon’s SUV and they went to the community centre’s loading docks. They filled up the car and piled in.
“You guys ready?” Hex said.
“Yeah!” the others shouted. “Road trip!”
Hex marveled that he almost felt alive again. He imagined his heart racing in his chest. What a strange world, he mused, that the poisonous light of the sun could also return the light of friendship to their dark lives. “All right! Eternal night, here we come!”
He used the fob to open the loading bay doors, and all of their breaths caught in their throats. It was bright out. No doubt now, the sun was still in the sky and it truly was the end of the world.
“Bit too bright,” Hex said, chuckling. He turned on the GPS and set a destination for the docks, and mostly looked at the screen instead of through the windshield. Then Melancholia synched her phone to the car and really cranked the classic rock. They cheered again and Hex put his foot down on the gas.
As soon as the car crossed the threshold from shadow to sunlight all four of them exploded in shrieks and a flurry of smoldering embers. The car rolled forward a bit further until it hit a garbage bin, cracking the bumper.
* * *
About 10 minutes later, Dagon’s coffin door flew open and he stepped out, yawning. He scratched himself and stretched. There was a half-filled pop bottle on his nightstand, but when he shook it, it turned out the blackened blood had all congealed at the bottom. He grunted and set it back down.
He went to his closet but found it open, most of his clothes missing or scattered about the floor. “What the hell?” He scowled, picking up his favourite green tee. “I swear, if Tim is stealing my stuff again…”
He changed his shirt, shook off his irritation, and went to the common room of the abandoned community centre. “Unbelievable,” he said, looking at the absolute mess. Clothes scattered all over the place, a couch flipped over, the TV face down on the floor.
“Hello?” he shouted. “You guys are absolute slobs, you know that? Disgusting!”
He made his way to the mini fridge but slipped and fell on the ground hard. The floor was slick, greasy. Covered in a thick layer of some kind of film, which he figured was sunscreen when he spotted all the empty bottles laying around.
He got to his feet, wiped his hands on a sofa cushion with a wince. His favourite green shirt was covered in the stuff. “You guys are real gross! I don’t even want to know what you were doing here.” Nobody answered.
He went to the mini fridge but it was empty. Dagon swore. Maybe it was time for new roommates.
Out of habit he looked up at the kitchen clock, one of the old analogue ones that had a fork for the minute hand and a knife for the hour hand. He approached it and took it down. Found the nob on the back. Rolled it back an hour for daylight savings. Hanged it back up.
His stomach growled, and the kitchen was empty. Dagon picked up a gross sweater and put it on, vowing to kill his roommates. But first, food. He left the community centre and terrorized the night.