. . . it makes your teeth turn green . . .

The Comet
by Adrienne Ray ©2013

“Do you have any sleeping pills left?” Cathy asked.

The drug store was quite sparse. Several of the shelves were completely empty. The looters had probably been here already. They were hardly ever prosecuted anymore. Although, as the weeks had gone by, the looters had become less violent, more resigned to their fate. The red haired clerk sat at the cash register reading a girly magazine.

“Nope,” the clerk said, flipping through the pages.

”No sleeping pills. No arsenic. Not even rat poison.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“For suicide,” the clerk said. “Isn’t that what you wanted it for?”

“I-I just have been having trouble sleeping,” Cathy stammered. “I certainly would never…”

“It’s okay. My Mom and Dad plan to have one last good meal and then drive the Escalade into the ocean,” the clerk volunteered. “The only reason I don’t go with them is I have to work tonight. I know that sounds stupid but it’s the only way I can make sense of this craziness.”

The conversation wasn’t very productive and Cathy had no intention of continuing it. She bought a pack of gum, mostly because she felt the cashier needed to sell something, and left.

The streets of Baltimore were fairly empty and the few people she did see had the macabre attitude of a funeral at Marti Gras. People were either drunk or crying or both.

They should go inside, Cathy thought. Go eat dinner. Watch T.V. Go to sleep.

She drove out of the city and into the suburbs. Every once in a while, she heard gun shots. No one seemed to care. She certainly didn’t. As she turned on to her street, she noticed a couple rolling around on her neighbor’s grass. They might have been fighting or maybe having sex. It didn’t really matter which.

She pulled into her driveway and turned the motor off. Then she looked into her rearview mirror. Two inches of gray roots peeked out from her honey blonde hair. Maybe she could use a touch up. But why bother?

She opened her front door. The television was on. Had she turned it off when she left the house? She couldn’t remember. Was she being robbed? So what? She didn’t have the emotional energy left to be scared. She just stood there, staring stupidly at the T.V. set.

It was yet another interview with Dr. Brasnov about the comet he had discovered. The comet that was going to kill then all. The reporter, Angie Swank, was trying to make the story interesting. It was the only story that any news station had been covering for the past six weeks. With that kind of saturation, even imminent death gets boring.

“So it looks like we’re going to get hit,” Angie said, trying to appear to be gravely concerned. “Tell us, Dr. Braznov, what can we expect to happen?”

“Well, Angie, Braznov’s Comet should be crossing our path about 12:30 tonight, Eastern Standard Time,” Braznov said. His eyes twinkled a little when he called the comet by name. “There is a 15% chance it will strike the earth. A direct hit would rupture the earth’s crust and send it flying into space like a retread off a tire.”

“Killing all life on the planet?” Her co-host, Brent Davis, had to get his two cents in.

“Yes, that’s what our models predict.”

“What if the comet misses us?” Brent asked. It was perhaps the 100th time he’d done such an interview. He knew the answer.

“There is an 85% chance the comet will miss us,” Braznov said. “But even a near miss would cause the earth to wobble. This could cause massive tidal waves. Winds 1000 miles per hour. Earth quakes off the charts. Initially we’ll loose a third of the population. Those will be the lucky ones. Life, if possible, after the comet will be harsh to say the least.”

“How do you think we will make out here?” Brent asked. “What will happen to Baltimore?”

“Not good. We could end up being washed into the Mississippi,” Brasnov said. “But, like I said, being smashed to bits by tons of water is a far better end than dieing of thirst in Kansas because there’s no clean water to drink. All the water will be contaminated by the dead bodies washed into the state from the east coast. Of course, we could always . . .”

“Enough of this crap,” Cathy said. She clicked the remote and channel surfed through many similar news shows. She finally came upon a rock station that was playing lively music. The people were all young and attractive. They were dancing and laughing.

Most of the young people Cathy recognized as having starred in this movie or that T.V. show. It was good to see some happiness. Cathy smiled. Then she thought, it seemed a little unfair that these young people would die at 20 or 30 and she had lived 52 full years before the comet hit.

“That’s right, boys and girls!” a young man said as he smiled into the camera. “This is Glen Meyers speaking and we’re going to party like there’s no tomorrow. Because there isn’t!”

Why not? Cathy thought. When you’re all out of hope, what’s wrong with getting a little drunk?

“At 12:00 o’clock, we are all taking our sleeping pills together. WE get to choose when we die! Not the comet! This will be the greatest party ever! Stay tuned! Because, while staring into the face of death, we might even have some kind of wardrobe malfunction!”

With that, he turned to the starlet nearest him and gave her tube top and good solid yank. The top came down and her breasts unceremoniously popped out. She broke into nervous giggling and the rest of the young people dissolved into riotous laughter.

Like every other outrageous thing Cathy had seen these past few weeks, she excused this behavior. What difference did it make? All the world would soon be gone. But she found herself hoping that the girl’s parents were already dead and not around to see this last bit of indignity.

Cathy heard a “clunk” in the kitchen. Someone was in her house. Cathy felt her stomach twist into a sizable knot. Even though it hardly made any difference if a burglar killed her now or the comet did it a little later, she was still frightened. That surprised her. At that moment, Cathy knew she wouldn’t have taken the sleeping pills even if she had been able to buy them. Cathy wanted to live her life as long as the Fates would let her have it.

A young man came out of the kitchen. He was handsome, she thought. Dark and rugged, like his father. He smiled tenderly and said, “Hello, Mom.”

“Hi, Greg,” she said. “How did you get out?”

“They let all of us out,” Greg said. “They said it couldn’t hurt anything to let us out. Might as well go home to our families.”

Cathy started crying.

“Oh, Greg, I’m sorry I turned you in for not believing in Global Warming!”

“It’s okay, Mom.”

“Now I guess none of that makes any difference. The earth is going to be destroyed no matter what kind of carbon footprint we leave. It wouldn’t have made any difference if you drove your truck or not.”

“Don’t worry about it. Look! I brought you something,” he said and gestured toward the kitchen.

The kitchen table was covered in news papers. A bushel of steamed crabs sat in the center of the table. The room smelled like vinegar and Old Bay seasoning. A keg of beer was on the floor and stood almost as high as the table. It would be one heck of a party for two people.

“I’m not very hungry,” Cathy said.

“Come on, Mom,” Greg said. “It was hard to get these crabs. You don’t know how many favors I had to call in to get this keg. Sit down. Have a beer.”

She sat down at the table. The years fell away. They were a family again. Her husband was alive and about to walk through the door at any minute. It was just a warm summer night. They were not watching the sun set for the last time.

“It really is beautiful, isn’t it? The sun, I mean,” Cathy said. “I guess, we’ve taken a lot of things for granted.”

“Yep,” Greg said. He reached into his coat pocket and took out a revolver. He placed it on the table as he watched the sunset.

“Greg,” Cathy said urgently, “I want to see what happens. Maybe the earth won’t be completely destroyed. Maybe we can survive.”

“The gun isn’t for you,” he said.

The lights flickered.

Please, no, Cathy thought. Please, if I must die tonight, at least don’t let me die in the dark.

The lights went out. Greg cursed under his breath.

“That’s about right,” he said. “The last night on earth and the electric company has a blackout.”

He went down into the cellar. Cathy heard a humming noise. The lights came back on.

“I got a generator,” he said. “You?d be surprised what kind of deals you can make when the salesman expects to die in the next twelve hours. Oh, look at this!”

As darkness fell, two dark figures crawled cautiously along Cathy’s lawn. Each carried a golf club. Greg reached into his pocket.

“Greg, if they want to loot the house, just let them,” Cathy said. “Tomorrow it won’t make any difference who owns what. Don’t shoot anybody.”

“Oh, I’m not going to shoot them,” Greg said. He pulled a remote control unit from out of his pocket and hit the button.

The sprinklers in the front yard came on. The two interlopers cried out and quickly ran out of the yard, cursing and swatting their bodies.

“Formic acid,” Greg said with a smirk. It’s something I’ve been working on during my-er- unfortunate incarceration. I put it in the sprinkler system. It burns like a bee sting. Times like these, that might be enough to make them move on to the next house.”

“When did you do that to the sprinklers?”

“This afternoon when you were out. I didn’t want to spend this night being pushed around by some worthless looters.”

The two figures rolled around on the street and cursed a lot. Then they proved Greg right. They moved on to the neighbor’s house. Cathy and Greg didn’t hear anything from next door. For whatever reason, the looters met no resistance.

They spent two or three hours turning the sprinklers off and on, chasing looters away. After 11:00, the whole world got quiet. A warm summer breeze lightly stirred the trees as if the earth was innocently unaware of its terrible fate.

Greg flipped through the T.V. channels. A news reporter stood outside the White House which was being overrun by an angry mob.

“The President and his family left Washington hours ago to an undisclosed shelter. Behind me, demonstrators are furious that the president did so little to prepare us for this night,” the reporter said.

“Skip, they look pretty upset,” Brent Davis said. “Do I see fire?”

“Yes, Brent, they are setting the White House on fire,” Skip said. He watched the fire behind him grow for a moment and then he added, “I guess it doesn’t really matter.”

“I suppose not,” Brent muttered. There was an awkward silenced. For once in their lives, the newsmen were speechless.

Greg flipped the channels and came across the party to end all parties.

Two men were engaged in a freestyle boxing match. The smaller man was well versed in martial arts. Greg recognized the bigger man as the heavy weight champion.

“This might be worth watching,” he said.

“Oh, I don’t know, Greg,” Cathy said. “Do we have to watch something so violent?”

The two men seemed equally matched. Then someone tossed the bigger man a broad sword. With one swift stroke, he decapitated his smaller opponent.

“Well- uh-” Glen Meyers stuttered. “I-uh-guess that really doesn’t make any difference either.”

Greg flipped to another channel.

“I think we can find something better than that,” he said.

A group of clergy were having a round table debate. In no time the debate took a downward spiral. What began as a sincere and soulful confession degenerated into a can-you-top-this tell all between the bishop of Baltimore and a popular T.V. evangelist. The young priest sitting next to them was noticeably silent.

“What about you, Fr. Lascow?” the evangelist asked. “Are you going to confess your sins?”

“Oh, I will,” Fr. Lascow said. “Tomorrow morning.”

The bishop looked displeased and motioned for the priest to leave the set.

“What did he mean, he will tomorrow?” Cathy asked.

“That’s Bill Lascow. I shared a cell with him,” Greg said. “When they let us out, they cautioned us not to say anything that would upset the public. I guess the bishop gets to choose what he can and cannot say.”

“But he thinks there will be a tomorrow?” Cathy said. “Does he know something we don’t know? Do the radical meteorologists think we’ll survive?”

“Hope springs eternal. Isn’t that what you taught me?”

Cathy nodded sadly. Then she said, “Hey! This is your last day on earth. So why aren’t you off somewhere with a beautiful woman? Surely you know some.?”

“I am,” Greg smiled. “I love you, Mom.”

Cathy began to tear up. The beer was taking its toll on her.

“You’re the best son ever!!” she sobbed. “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you about Global Warming!”

“It’s okay, Mom.”

“I should of done something! I should of baked you cookies or something- or some kind of- or some-”

This was more of a buzz than the beer could do. Her vision began to blur. She climbed onto her couch and said, “What’s- what’s wrong with me? You drugged me!”

“Good night, Mom”

She fought it, but the drugs were too strong. The world was ending and she was going to miss it. The most important night of her life and she was falling asleep.

***

Cathy awoke to a blazing light and the smell of burning flesh.

“Greg!” she muttered and fell. Down. Down. It seemed she was falling forever.

She landed with a thump on the carpet of her living room floor.

The bright light she saw was the mid morning sun shining faithfully through her living room curtains. A light breeze brushed across her azalea bushes. Birds sang in the maple tree. It seemed life outside her window was blissfully ignorant of any comet.

The burning flesh was the bacon Greg was cooking. He was also brewing coffee and scrambling some eggs. Judging by the groceries Greg had brought with him, he had fully expected to be cooking breakfast this morning.

“I think we have about a week”s worth of food here,” he said as she stumbled into the kitchen. “But we ought to be careful with it. There’s no telling how long it will be before the grocery chains get back up and running. A lot of them have been looted, I bet.”

The electricity was back on. The televisions in both the kitchen and the living room were on. Greg was watching Fr. Lascow who was jumping around like a monkey on crack. He had three chalk boards behind him. One had a drawing of a comet passing earth and missing it by such a distance that it had not affected the planet at all. The next board had a series of addresses on it. Above the addresses was the words: “National Guard Units report here”. The last board had lists of shelters people could go to if their homes had been destroyed by looters.

“If you’re just tuning in,” Fr. Lascow was saying in a breathy voice, “surprise! The comet missed earth entirely and won’t be coming back for another 240 years. If you are a National Guardsman, report to your unit as indicated on this board.”

“What?” Cathy said. It didn’t seem real.

“There was an 85% chance the comet would miss us,” Greg said. “All the reporters told you that.”

“Yes, but- but they said a near miss would kill most of us and the rest would be sorry they’d survived.”

“There was a 10% chance of a near miss that would cause the earth to wobble. But there was a 75% chance the comet would pass by without affecting us at all.”

“That’s not what they said!”

“Sure they did,” Greg said. “At least, that’s what they said in the beginning. Of course a complete miss doesn’t sell newspapers.”

“It’s over? There’s no comet anymore? We’re going to live?”

“Are you disappointed?”

“No . . . .I’m just . . . it’s a lot to take in . . .I thought my life was over. Now what?”

She flipped through the channels, looking for what other people planned to do. Most of the channels had snow. She found the party to end all parties. It had ended. The camera was slightly askew but it centered on a pile of dead celebrities.

It was difficult to accept that these stars were really dead. She kept thinking the credits would start rolling and the show would be over. Tomorrow these celebrities would be on the talk shows discussing politics and the environment.

But they were really dead. Glen Meyers had dried vomit dribbling down his shirt and onto the starlet underneath him. Their eyes were open, staring blankly like dead fish. There must have been twenty of them. Who would make the movies now?

Greg looked up from the eggs and said, “Change that, please. I can’t stand to watch- oh, Jeeze, that’s Brenda Loggins. I always liked her. Please change the channel.”

She switched to the local news. Brent Davis and Angie Swank were at the desk. Brent was his phony chipper self. Angie looked like she was living a nightmare.

“If you’re just tuning in, the comet has missed us and won’t be returning for 240 years. The president will be returning to Washington this evening and the stock market will open tomorrow at 9:00 am. So I guess we dodged a bullet there, huh, Angie?” Brent chirped.

“It’s possible a third of the earth’s population has committed suicide,” Angie said hollowly. “In some cases entire towns were lost. The National Guard has been called out to bury the dead.”

“And now a look at the weather,” Brent said. “Clear skies, no humidity and it seems to be a perfect day-”

“Oh, my God, Brent! The reason you have to give the weather is because Lenny killed himself last night! Along with his whole family! Can’t you show a little emotion?” Angie cried.

“It’s not my fault!” Brent yelled back at her. “That was his choice! No one made him do it!”

“We told the world the comet would hit! There was only a 15% chance it would, but the ratings went up every time we talked about destruction and chaos. So that’s what we talked about! We made it sound like a sure thing!” she sobbed.

“Shut up,” Brent said.

“No, you shut up! We talked them into suicide! All for the sake of ratings!”

“What’s going on here?” Cathy asked as the reporters tore into each other.

“It’s the nature of the beast,” Greg said. “Bad news sells more than good news. The media can be very misleading. Either because they want to for the sake of ratings or because life is just too complicated to be explained in 90 second sound bites.”

“It just doesn’t seem fair,” Cathy said. “People thought there was no hope. They thought they had no choice.”

“Maybe they should have paid more attention,” Greg said.

“How can I live with what we’ve done?” Angie wailed.

“You know what really caused this?” Brent said. “Global Warming.”

“You blame everything on Global Warming!”

“No, think about it, Angie,” Brent said. “We don’t let anybody say anything that goes against the general consensus of Global Warming. We’ve stopped questioning anything the environmentalists say. We’ve stopped thinking for ourselves.”

“So it was the audiences” fault for listening to us”“

“Exactly!”

There was a crash off camera. The sound of an angry mob grew louder and more clear. Brent looked at the camera or perhaps something beyond the camera and turned white as a ghost. Angie had a more resigned attitude.

“Apparently there are some who believe this situation is entirely our fault,” Angie said stoically. “This is Angie Swank signing off for-”

The channel turned into snow.

“This coming week will be the worst of it. That’s why I bought the gun,” Greg said. “It would be best if we stay inside until the government regains control. Until tempers cool down.”

“I think you’re right,” Cathy said. “I hope you’re right.” She patted her son’s hand affectionately. “That’s what survival is all about, isn’t it? Hope?

x x x

Adrienne we’ve missed you. We’re so glad you’re back. Your stories this year and last are tough acts to follow. Join me in welcoming Adrienne again to the anotherealm fold. Say hi on our BBS. - GM.



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