The World Ends Tomorrow
Ari Stuttle

He walks out of the TV room staring at the TV remote he's holding in his hand. He goes through the kitchen to the living room where his wife is curled up on the sofa reading a book.

He holds up the TV remote for her to see. He waits, but she doesn't look up. She must really be involved in that book not to even notice him. "What are you reading?" he asks.

"Oh, nothing, really," she says, still not looking up.

"Well, it must be something," he says. "Otherwise, why are you reading it?" He's feeling a little irritated that she won't even look up at him.

He waits.

Finally, she does look up. She shows him the book. "It's another Nora Roberts romance. I don't even know why I keep on reading it."

She goes back to reading.

He supposes it's a book from her book club. He doesn't understand why they've started meeting twice a week instead of their usual once a week, but he knows better than to ask about that. Instead, he will just be friendly. "From your women's book club?"

She's still looking at the book as she waves him off. "Yeah, but it's not in the queue yet. We have to vote on it tomorrow. I don't know why they never want to read any other authors besides Nora Roberts."

He doesn't know who Nora Roberts is. Probably some women's author. Maybe somebody famous. He knows better than to ask. "I have to tell you something," he says, again holding up the TV remote for her to see.

She looks up. "What?"

"I just saw it on the TV news. The world is going to end tomorrow."

"Very funny," she says, and goes back to reading.

"No, seriously. I just saw it on CNN."

She puts her embroidered book mark into the book, closes it, and drops it to her lap. "I should thank you," she says. "If you hadn't come in, I would've probably wasted the whole evening reading this stupid book. I just don't understand why they always vote for Nora Roberts books. You'd think with all the books they have to choose from, they could find something better." She opens the book again and points to the page. "Listen to this line. 'She sipped and made a careless shrug, the silver sparkling on her shoulders.' I mean really. Silver sparkling on her shoulders? A careless shrug? What is that even supposed to mean?"

"Uh, what did you say it was that sparkled?" he asks. "Did you say some kind of silver? Uh, on her shoulders?"

"That's what I mean. It's not clear. I guess it's supposed to be some kind of silvery outfit she's wearing, but how am I supposed to know that? The descriptions are all like that. Superficial, almost . . . hurried. Like the author had to get the writing over with quick so she could get on to her next book." She opens the book again and goes back to reading.

Once she starts reading again, it's almost as if she's forgotten that he's still standing there. "Uh, did you hear me?"

"About what?"

"About the world ending tomorrow."

Now she does look up, but she seems distracted. "What about the world?"

"It's going to end. Uh, tomorrow. I think."

"Well, speaking of tomorrow, I have to read enough of this book tonight to at least pretend like I have a good reason for voting against it." She goes back to reading.

He watches her read. She said she didn't like the book, but she seems to be fully involved in it. In fact, her book club seems to be about the only thing she is fully involved in these days. They used to watch TV together every night after supper, like a normal couple, but ever since the book club started meeting twice a week, she mostly just reads by herself. Every night. Whenever he asks her if she's coming to bed, she just says she has to finish the chapter first. She tells him he should go on up to bed, and she'll be there "soon."

It's not like he doesn't try to stay awake waiting for her, but what with the constant battles going on at work about who's to blame for the decreasing sales numbers, he's just too worn out. The next thing he knows, the alarm is going off, and he has to hurry and make himself something for breakfast and then eat it in the car to make sure he isn't even one second late for work. It used to be that half the workforce would wander in an hour or more late every day, but what with the new-hires making waves about "the much needed changes around here," nobody is showing up late anymore.

He watches his wife read for a few more moments, but then realizes he still has the TV remote in his hand. He turns away and heads back toward the TV room. But as he goes through the kitchen, he decides he might as well make himself another vodka tonic. In fact, he decides, might as well make it a double so as not to have to make another trip to the kitchen before bedtime.

Back in the TV room, the TV is still showing nothing but bright white fuzz. He sips at his drink as he flips through all the channels. Not one of them is working: nothing but static and fuzz.

With nothing else to watch, he sits down in his comfortable recliner to watch the fuzz. He presses the button to turn up the volume, but then he thinks it might disturb his wife's reading, so he turns it down again. A little.

He leans forward to look closely at the jittering dots of nothing, hoping he might be able to discern some message hidden within it. But he can find no message. And the static is as equally unchanging and messageless as the fuzz.

So, this is the end? Nothing but fuzz and static?

But wait, didn't CNN say the world wasn't going to end until tomorrow? So why did everything go off the air now? He looks toward the window. What's going on out there? Did it end already? Maybe the end has already happened somewhere where it's already tomorrow. Australia. Or someplace like . . . maybe . . . Siberia.

No, that can't be true; CNN is an American news network, and they said the world wasn't going to end until tomorrow. CNN is reliable. It must be going to end tomorrow, on American time.

But if the world hasn't ended yet, why are all the TV stations already off the air? He tries to imagine it. Maybe the people who control the TV networks just walked off the job as soon as they heard the news. Or maybe whatever it is that's going to end the world has disrupted the TV transmission signals. A meteor or something. But no, he would have heard a meteor hit. Same with a nuclear bomb; they'd both make a lot of noise. More likely, it's something that's silent. Like a big sun flare, or . . . something.

Wait a minute. Speaking of noise, why isn't he hearing any noise from outside? You'd think a lot of people would be outside trying to find out what's going to happen. Surely some of them would be making noise. Screaming or something.

He decides he'd better go out and have a look.

He takes his large glass of vodka tonic with him, and on the way through the kitchen, he pauses to refill it. But then he hesitates, staring at the bottle. The label says its Distilled from 100% American Grains. That makes him wonder how vodka is made. According to the label, it must be made from grains. But what grains? And why wouldn't it be made from one hundred percent American grains? Do some vodka makers use cheap imported grains?

He decides to take the bottle outside with him. Maybe the neighbors outside would like some too.

But once he's out standing on his front porch, he sees no neighbors. The lights are off in all the houses. That seems odd. If the world really is going to end, wouldn't they do the same thing he's doing, go out to see what was going to make it happen?

But then, maybe they already came out when they heard the news and saw nothing, so they all went back inside and went to bed. Or maybe they're hiding out. Keeping their lights off as they prepare for their last day on earth. But how can you prepare for something like that when you don't know what it is?

He thinks about going next door. Mr. and Mrs. . . . somebody live next door. He can't quite remember their last name, but they've always seemed fairly friendly. They wave whenever they come out to get their newspaper in the morning. He could go over and knock on their front door. Ask them what they're doing to prepare for the end.

He goes down off the front porch and starts across the lawn.

But then he changes his mind. It could be dangerous to knock on anybody's door, given the situation. They might shoot him or something.

But why would they? What good would shooting your neighbor do if we're all going to die tomorrow anyhow?

Still, better safe than sorry. He turns back and sits on his porch steps. He finishes his vodka tonic and starts to refill the glass. But then, the simple act of pouring the vodka from the bottle into the glass seems absurd. A waste of precious time. What's the purpose of a glass anyhow? Why not just drink from the bottle?

He tips up the bottle and takes a good-sized slug.

Wow, he thinks, that brought back some long ago memories. He hasn't taken a swig right from a booze bottle since he was a college student. And part of that memory isn't so great: the throwing up part, and the passing out part. Better not hit the vodka too hard. Wouldn't want to spend his last night on earth passed out on the front lawn.

But what should you do with your last night on earth? Funny, he can't think of a thing. If you can't watch the death and destruction of the end play out on TV, what was there to do but sit and wait for it?

But then he notices his shiny new car in the driveway. Cost him a damn fortune, that car. Well, at least he won't have to worry about keeping up the payments on it anymore.

But wait, that car has a radio. The news might still be coming over the radio even if all the TV channels are out.

Once inside the car, he takes a moment to smell that wonderful new car smell. The optional leather seats, the wonderful smell of . . . whatever it is that makes a new car smell new.

He puts the key in the ignition and turns on the radio.

Nothing but static. Same as on the TV.

He's about to give up, but then he remembers there was supposed to be some kind of emergency radio station for just such situations. He has a vague memory of some special number on the AM dial that's supposed to be reserved for emergencies. He switches from FM to AM, and then he scans the entire range of numbers. Nothing but static on any of them. That confirms it: the world really is ending.

But isn't there some place people are supposed to go in an emergency? Fallout shelters or . . . something? He has to find out. He starts the car and backs out onto the street.

But then he stops. Maybe he should go back in tell his wife where he's going. But where is he going? He isn't sure, just out. Just somewhere to find somebody who knows what's going on. Besides, he probably won't be gone long. She's so caught up in reading her dumb book for her stupid book club, she probably won't miss him anyhow.

He turns on the car lights and starts down the street. His is the only car on the street. Everybody else must be hiding out. Scared to drive on the very last night. Of all the people on his street, he's the only one brave enough to go out. That thought buoys him, and he takes another long slug from the vodka bottle, and decides to see what his new car can do. He floors it, and the sound of his tires burning rubber brings back another memory: he'd had a hot car when he was a kid. Man, that car was so powerful it could burn rubber for half a block. How long has it been since he made a car burn rubber? He didn't even know new cars like this could burn rubber.

He laughs as he speeds right through the stop sign at the end of the cul-de-sac, and feels the rear end of the car slide out a bit, and he turns toward the freeway. How about that? He's pushing the limit, just like a race car driver.

As he approaches the onramp, he's surprised to see so many cars up there on the freeway. Were are all hurrying to get somewhere before the end? Id so, where?

He zooms up the onramp and roars onto the freeway. Some of the people in their cars honk their horns at him, but so what? Let them get out of his way for a change. He takes another hit from the bottle, and then he swerves across all four lanes of traffic and into the car pool lane. More honking from behind him. Who cares? Let them honk. He doesn't give a shit. Why should he? It's almost the end or the world, isn't it? So what does it matter? Why should anything matter now?

Now that he's in the car pool lane, he can really get moving. He has no idea how fast his car can go, but he's about to find out.

As the needle goes past the last mark on the speedometer dial, the car still seems like it wants to go faster. He keeps the accelerator mashed to the floor. Let's see what this baby can do.

Man is he flying! The cars he's passing are nothing but a blur.

He tries to take another slug from the vodka bottle, but he discovers the damn thing is empty. He rolls down the window and throws it out. In the rear view mirror, he sees a white car swerve to miss the flying pieces of glass. Ha ha. That's funny. Why did they even bother? Don't they realize nothing matters now?

He's having a little trouble controlling the car at such a high speed, and a couple of times he smacks the center dividing wall. But that doesn't matter. Banging up his new car a bit doesn't matter in the slightest. Why should he slow down just because of a few little accidents? It's the Goddam end of the world, isn't it? Doesn't anybody else realize it? We should all just go for it. This is going to be our last chance to actually do something, our last chance to get out of the boring rut we're all stuck in, our last chance to tell those smart ass new-hires at work to go stuff it. They'll all be dead soon anyhow, and the funny thing is, he won't care one bit. Let them all burn in hell.

On and on he goes. Faster and faster. The other cars are all getting out of his way; it's like they understand his power, his willingness to smack right into them if they don't get the hell out of his way. What a feeling speed brings. What an amazing, amazing feeling! Sure, he sees the flashing red lights behind him, and sure, he sees the police helicopter overhead shining down its very bright light on him, but what does it matter? They too will all soon be dead. Besides, his car is so fast, it's magic. Nobody will ever catch him. They don't have a chance against him.

The only problem is, he's running out of freeway. The sign says all lanes must exit.

But he doesn't want to exit. He doesn't even want to slow down. In fact, he wishes he could go even faster, just keep going and going and going until the very end.

Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

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