“The world is ending and I am in an itty-bitty, yellow bikini. How the hell am I supposed to run?” Cassia screamed.
“Come on,” Theo said. “You know we have to get out of here so run in your bare feet like we used to when we were kids.”
Cassia ran off the beach like a deer running from a wolf pack. Her eyes were huge and her heart pounded. But she had been on the track team at school and with her long legs, she was one of the first out of there.
“The roads are blocked,” Theo yelled. “We’ll have to run home to take shelter.”
“We don’t have enough time!” she said. “We’ll run to the church and hide in there.”
They made their way through the screaming crowd, elbowing people out of the way. Cassia would be damned if she let hysterical beach-goers keep her from her goal. She had Theo to think of.
The church towered just ahead of them. It would be full soon, Cassia thought. She grabbed Theo’s arm and used the last of her sprinter strength to make it to the church on time.
They threw themselves onto the floor and latched the door shut.
“Why did you do that? We need to help each other out,” Theo asked. He always has so many questions, she thought.
She gritted her teeth and looked him dead in the eye. “We don’t want to be trapped in here with people who panic. They don’t think logically. We need our brains screwed on right to survive. Remember that,” she said.
One hour earlier
The sun had not set that day. True, there had been a sunset, a dazzling display of lavender and peach that would make even the most colorful of birds envious. But after this display, the sun had turned right around and started to ascend back into the noon sky.
It had been the most perfect of summer days. The kind that’s not too sticky, where the cicadas sing and a heart feels at home on this earth. Cassia reveled in the easy laziness of these last days of summer. School would be starting up again soon and they did not serve ice cream.
“What do you want out of this year?” she asked Theo, her little brother.
“Mmm, that’s kind of deep for a beach day,” he said. He paused, screwing up his brow as he focused. “I want to feel like this every day.”
“Me too,” Cassia said. She looked down at legs, noticing how tanned they were. She felt her focus drift to the feel of the warm sun on her skin. “It won’t last,” she said.
She was right.
“Why do you think this is happening? It doesn’t make any sense,” Theo said.
“Who cares? It doesn’t matter. We could think about it for the rest of our lives and never come up with an answer,” Cassia said.
“But what about gravity and the laws of physics and,” Theo said.
“That’s enough!” Cassia yelled. “We need all of our attention focused on the now,” she said.
Theo looked down. His bottom lip was jutting out slightly. Cassia reminded herself that he was still little. He had hit a huge growth spurt recently and was only a few inches shorter than her. But he was still a kid.
“Well, I think this is going to mess up my senior year,” Cassia said.
Theo looked back up, smiled, and then a rumble burst from his full belly. Cassia winked at him.
“You two are lucky to have each other,” a husky voice said from the corner.
Cassia looked around. There were three others in there with them. None of them had said anything when she latched the door. Cassia thought they looked sensible but she had to be sure.
“Anyone have a problem with this?” she asked, pointing to the latch.
“We’re going to be here for a while,” the husky voice said. “I think there are worse things we could do. I’m Erin, by the way.”
Cassia nodded at her. The skinny university student in the corner was Joon and the pretty girl about Theo’s age sitting in a pew was Chassidy.
Theo walked over to Chassidy, and sat in the same pew next to her. Cassia watched them chat away for a while, then turned her attention back to Erin.
“So what do you think about all this?” she asked.
“I think people are about to get real crazy,” Erin said.
Cassia nodded. “I’ll be honest with you, I'm scared,” she said.
“You’d be a fool not to be,” Erin said. “You’re doing a great job at keeping it together. Your parents must be proud of the way you take care of your little brother
Not really, Cassia thought. They’d had a lot of fights lately, screaming and shouting until her mother stepped in, yelling that they were disturbing the neighbors.
“We used to be closer,” she said after a long pause. “Theo and I were best friends, playing basketball after school every day then making up wizard or alien games. We used to sneak into our neighbor’s tennis court and play there until he caught us and told our parents.”
“What changed?” Erin asked.
“I don’t know, exactly,” Cassia said. “I guess we both started growing up. We have different interests and different friends now.”
“You can still get along even if you’re different,” Erin said. “Look, I’m not going to tell you to treasure your siblings because you’ll be grateful when you’re older.” She paused and gave Cassia a knowing smile.
Thank God, Cassia thought.
“But remember, if we make it out of this, life is a marathon not a sprint. You have decades together so if you don't get along for a year, or five, or even twenty, you still have the rest of your life to make up,” she said. “No rush.”
Not talking to Theo for twenty years sounded like way too long. But they’d be lucky to have that long with what was going on outside.
Cassia looked over at Theo. He was joking and smiling with Chassidy, the girl in the pew. Let him have a few more moments like this, she thought.
A bang on the door jolted them all, waking them up. No one moved. Then they heard it again, a deep, steady knock.
“No!” Cassia said. “That could be anyone. It could be fifty, deranged people for all we know. We’re safe here with our small group.”
“Let them in,” Chassidy said. “They might have food.”
Cassia crumpled up her mouth and tensed her jaw.
“Well, I think the only way to settle this is to take a vote,” Joon said. “I say we let them in. Who’s with me?”
Chassidy raised her hand. Then, slowly, Theo raised his.
“You can be such a naive idiot sometimes,” Cassia said to Theo.
“Don’t call me that. I’m not the only one who thinks it’s a good idea. You’re just being selfish and calling it practical,” he said.
“Hey!” Erin said, raising her voice. “The majority voted and even though I don't agree with you, we have to start out being respectful. We don’t need it to get all Lord of the Flies in here.”
Cassia sighed loudly as Erin made her way over to the door. She unbolted it and in poured about twenty people of all different ages. They had on swim shorts and bikinis and each had a frantic look in their eye. Cassia moved to the pew farthest from the crowd.
After a few minutes, Erin joined her. “Hey, it’s ok,” she said. “They have food.”
Cassia laughed. Maybe she was being stubborn after all, she thought. She’d have to relax a bit if she was going to get through this.
Cassia walked slowly and quietly over to where Theo was. He was sharing stories about school with a group who had gathered around him. She saw Chassidy and some other girls chuckle. Cassia couldn’t help herself. She smiled too. Those girls had looked so scared just a moment ago.
“Hey, Theo, can I talk to you,” Cassia said.
His eyes widened but he stopped chatting and came over to her.
“You know what, maybe I was wrong. They seem like good people,” she said.
“Yeah, they are,” Theo said, his jaw tightening and jutting out slightly. Then he relaxed. “You know, one of them is a scientist, and she’s got information from the government.”
“Well, spit it out,” Cassia said.
“They think the sun reversing won’t affect us too much. We’ll still sleep at night and then wake up about 7. Only it will be PM instead of AM. Then we go to sleep in the morning at 7.”
“Let me guess, AM?”
“That doesn’t sound too bad.”
“It’s not. Things will change but we’ll learn to cope.”
Just then, Cassia’s phone buzzed. The emergency weather alert has ended. Look outside, the sun’s back to where it should be. Please get back to what you were doing in an orderly way and stay safe.
Shouts echoed from the church walls, sounding out a hallelujah that warmed Cassia’s bones. Theo unlatched the door and the whole little crowd swarmed outside.
They looked up at the night sky, and sure enough, the sun was gone and the moon was beginning to rise. It was just like any other Sunday in August. Almost.
Erin grinned at Cassia and Chassidy whooped with delight, planting a kiss on Theo’s cheek.
Cassia felt a prickle of guilt on the back of her neck. She had to say something. “You know what, I’ve misjudged them,” Cassia said to Theo. “I think we made some friends for life here in this church at the end of the world.”
“You’re opening your mind, Cass,” Theo said. “You know, I’ve always looked up to you because no one’s as brave as you. You don’t care what anyone thinks but sometimes I think you get lonely because of that. All you need is to just give people a chance. They may surprise you.”
Cassia grinned and gave Erin a hug. After a second’s pause, she gave one to Chassidy too. Cassia grabbed Theo by the arm. They walked home together, hand in hand, like they used to when they were kids. Only with a few more friends. Tomorrow was looming over them, heavy with its questions and doubts, but it would come. Cassia was sure of it.