This is an excerpt from my short story, The Third Apocalypse which was published in the anthology, We are Dust, by Magpie Games.
I lived through two apocalypses before the third consumed the world. The first apocalypse came when the Doctor said, “It’s cancer.”
I waged chemical warfare on my internal enemy; radiation, scalpels and pills the weapons of my bloody conflict. Up to that war I had aged well. At fifty-two I was often mistaken for a woman half my age. But war has its costs. Cancer shriveled my pale skin and my thick silver hair floated away in the shower. That ten pounds I always wanted to lose fell off and took ten more with them. I no longer recognized the frail woman I saw in the mirror. My body became a desert, the city of my face sunken, my skin a brittle wasteland.
You think you cannot recover, after your world has an apocalypse, but if you walk on, just one foot in front of the other, you learn that the sun still shines, just on a different landscape. Post apocalyptic. You live differently then, desperately, but you live.
Two men in black suits came to my door to ask if I would come help my country. They brought me to their black SUV and their white plane and took me to the badlands, that beautiful stretch of arid landscape that divides the land between sea and shining sea. I was driven through a barbed wire gate to a sprawling cement complex that hunched over the landscape. I thought, hopefully, miserably, that this might be about my son. But it was not.
I was delivered to a military briefing room. It looked like a conference room for a business on the verge of bankruptcy. There was a white board at the front of the room over which hung a black rimmed ticking clock. Sitting in the front row was a silver-haired old man wearing a business suit with a turquoise stone in his hair. One row back was a lean white man in a black shirt and dress pants and a bright red tie. His hair was jet black and shiny, styled to stand in spikes. Startled, I realized I’d recognized him. He was a magician with a “true magic” TV show. I was embarrassed I couldn’t remember his name, so I passed him, trying not to stare.
I sat in the back row next to a young woman with long, wavy brown hair and large doe eyes. She wore a long, featherweight dress that barely clung on to her tanned shoulders. She reminded me of the hippies at Woodstock.
“Are you Wiccan?” she asked as I slid into the molded plastic chair.
“Yes,” I said, glancing at the pentagram around her neck, “I’m the high priestess of a coven.”
“I was raised Wiccan,” she said dreamily.
I held out my hand. “Juliette,” I said.
“Amy,” she said, smiling. Her teeth were white, but some of them were crooked, and I knew that she had grown up poor. Then a man in a lab coat walked in, pushing his wire glasses up on his red nose. He was about my age, with the paunch around his middle that cancer stole from me. He had no hair on the top of his head, but a ring of thinning ash brown hair around the sides, like a medieval monk.
“Thank you all for coming,” he said, picking a remote out of his pocket. He pressed a button and the lights in the room dimmed. “I’m sorry we couldn’t explain more before you were brought here,” he said, switching on a projector in the ceiling, “but it’s a matter of national security. A rift has opened in the world, and every scientific method we’ve tried won’t close it. However, we know that certain spiritual people have some effect on it.”
The projection on the whiteboard was a Microsoft desktop. He clicked on a file on the desktop called “Helper Presentation 2.2” which opened onto an image from the old west; a sepia toned military regiment gathered around a young priest with circles under his eyes.
“This was taken when the rift was discovered,” he said. “It might have opened before, but I suspect the native people had some ritual to close it. He glanced at the man in the business suit, who looked back at him blankly. “This regiment brought in a Priest, because they thought it was a hole that opened to hell.”
“Why would they think that?” asked the magician.
“It’s the way it makes you feel,” said Dr. Shultz, clicking the remote. The presentation clicked forward to a picture of two finely dressed men in tailcoats standing behind a corpse of a catholic cardinal. “Four Priests died before this cardinal was brought to close the portal. He died in the process. We’re not sure how. The man on the left went insane and died in a mental hospital. The cause was listed as syphilis, but now we have some reason to doubt that might be true. We thought it had closed for good after that, but in 1954, it opened again, and no priest the Catholic Church sent to us could close it. After that, we turned to other faiths. That’s when we built this complex, to monitor the rift and attempt to close it.”
The magician raised his hand, but didn’t wait to be called on. “Why not speak to the tribe that lived here, see how they did it?”
Dr. Shultz looked away. “By that time, they were all gone.”
“Genocide,” said the man in the business suit. He didn’t sound angry or sad. Not a question or an accusation, just a statement.
Dr. Shultz looked down at his remote as he clicked to through several slides, “After that,” he said, “We tried anything and everything we could,” pictures of people in red robes, nuns, monks, hippies, scientists in lab coats, military men, men in suits with starched white collars, women in long, flowing dresses, men in turbans, whirling dervishes, rabbis, aesthetics, Franciscan friars, missionaries, all whirled by. “Nothing worked,” said Dr. Shultz, “and it’s been getting bigger.”
“How much bigger?” asked Amy. She looked happy, and a little high.
“It’s best if I show you,” said Dr. Shultz. The group followed him through a maze of hallways.
“I’m Juliette,” I said to the businessman.
“You can call me Charlie,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“Is that your name?” I asked.
He shook his head. “You seem like a nice lady,” he said, “But I’m not your medicine man, okay?”
I put up my hands, “Alright,” I said, “Didn’t mean to offend.”
Dr. Shultz stopped at a set of double doors. “Anyone who had an effect on the rift has told us that something is trying to come through that wants to hurt us. All we know is that it is large and old and cruel.” He turned a corner. “We built this place around the rift, but recently, well, things have changed.” Dr. Shultz opened a large set of double doors onto a warehouse that was so large it could have stored several airplanes.
We stepped on a metal balcony looking out onto a crack in the world. The jagged crack in the earth stretched out of the opened ended warehouse, into the desert, running about a mile across the sands. The rift was like an angry, purple-black scar across the red landscape. It was an offense, wound, a terror. It was winter in the warehouse, despite the heat of the deadlands, this was a cold place. Frost curled outward from the jagged crack. I could feel the pull of the rift like a wind from the balcony, and I watched as sand drifted across the desert, falling into it, consumed by that cruel, half open mouth.