“I never knew what the moon was ’til I was seven years old” Mark said, staring up at the vast Texas night sky. He sat squarely on the hood of the ’68 Riviera, his lean frame reclining against the windscreen as he gulped down the last of his Dr.Pepper. “My daddy always told me the sun stayed put twenty-four seven so I just assumed it looked different at night.” He looked over at his best friend, who was absent-mindedly staring at the floor whilst excavating snot from his left nostril.
“You hear me Davy?”
“I hear you Mark,” Davy replied, rolling the nose goo between his giant sized thumb and forefinger. “Your daddy was mean is what he was.”
Davy popped the little green ball in his mouth and licked his lips before crushing his own soda can, tossing it out across the desert sand. There was hardly any wind tonight, and the view from Peak Point was breathtaking.
“Aw, he was okay,” Mark said lighting up a lucky strike. “I just don’t think he ever really wanted to be a daddy in the first place. Can’t say I blame him, I never felt any of that parent instinct either.”
“Should’a put a rubber on his pole then shouldn’t he?”
“And kept me from the world? Nah, fuck that. Fuck him, and fuck you too!”
Mark laughed and took a drag as he walked over to Davy who was smiling at the floor, kicking at the sand.
“You been like a daddy to me, Mark.”
“Oh shit Davy let’s not get all sentimental here. ‘Sides, I’m only a few years older than you. I ain’t your daddy. Not yours, not no-ones.”
“You know what I mean though Mark? Like, when people’s been mean to me and all, you’ve always-”
“Yeah Davy. I know what you mean.”
Mark took a long drag of his cigarette, put an arm around Davy’s huge shoulders and squeezed tight.
A car sped past behind them. The sudden noise sent Kane into a barking frenzy and Davy had to restrain him from running after it.
“Kane’s still got a good eight or nine years in him, just don’t seem right.” Mark said as he watched Davy petting the dog enthusiastically. Kane rolled over in submission offering up his belly, no doubt expecting a good tummy rub.
Tonight was different however. Tonight there would be no fetch, no park games or play sessions.
For most, tonight was about remembering,- taking a moment to reflect on life and thinking hard about what might exist after it.
Tonight was mankind’s last.
News had broken two days earlier that multiple comets, each the size of a small planet were on a collision course with Earth. The result of the impact guaranteed total destruction with no chance of species survival. It was what the experts had called a ‘Zero-One Totality’. Mark had been at home placing an ad in the local paper when Davy had burst in with the news.
It was on every channel. By lunchtime you’d have had to be buried in a hole in the ground to be unaware of the planets sudden and imminent fate. Experts had given a seventy-two hour window with impact expected around 4am on Wednesday.
Davy was ripping into his third can of Dr. Pepper.
“Too many of them sugar drinks ain’t good for you, you know,” Mark said, working the butt of his lucky strike into the dirt with his boot. Davy looked sheepishly at his soda then at Mark.
“Mind you, I heard a similar rumour about these sticks I keep shoving in my mouth an’ settin’ fire to, so…”
Davy smiled and drank from his can as Mark tapped the cigarette pack against the side of his hand, letting one fall into his palm. “Well, that takes care of that,” he said as he lit a match and sparked up, inhaling deep. “Three left. Guess I don’t have to worry about these things cuttin’ my life short anymore…”
“Why’s that Mark?”
“Cos them big-ass rocks are gonna take care of that just fine in the mornin’ Davy, you remember?”
“Oh, yeah…” Davy sighed and pondered for just a second before taking a huge gulp of sweet sugary soda pop.
The last twenty-four hours had been eerily quiet in Desert Falls. Mark was sure it would be a different story downtown but up here roads were pretty much empty and streets all but bare. Shops had been left standing open and unlocked. People had left town in a real hurry, no doubt making a dash to be with their loved ones and wait for the end. Mark had expected chaos once the news broke but the truth was the world had seemed to go into a sort of fumbling collective shock, – a frozen moment in time if ever there was one.
Humanity it seemed had met its match, and what a humbling experience it had turned out to be.
Some had taken to the streets in brief protest, screaming at all who’d listen, blaming the government and anyone else they could think of for ‘lying to us all these years,’ and ‘leaving the world to die while they took to their safe underground bunkers…’
Whether or not this was true Mark didn’t much care. He figured there wouldn’t be anything worth surviving for once it was all over anyway, and who the hell would want to miss such a spectacle? The end of the world? Damned if he wasn’t going to have front row seats for that. Nope, he was gonna sit right here at Peak Point with his best friend and his best friends dog and together they were gonna watch those motherfuckers rain down.
He had briefly wondered how it might play out. Maybe the ground around them would split open and eat them up. Maybe they’d be picked up by the force of the impact and thrown into outer space. Damn, one of them comets might just burst through the sky and land right there in his lap.
Truth was, he didn’t care to linger on details much. He figured it would all become clear real soon so why the hell worry?
He put out his cigarette, watching the orange glow disappear in the dirt before slipping the near-empty pack into the breast pocket of his faded plaid shirt. He looked over to where Davy was sitting with Kane, and as he watched his friend lovingly stroke the back of the dogs head, he felt for the first time a deep ache in the pit of his stomach and his eyes stung a little.
He wiped them with the back of his sleeve and reached for the pack once more.
Mark had been thinking a lot about the past since the news broke, which made sense,- wasn’t much point thinking about the future. Tonight as he watched Davy and Kane he found himself thinking about the last sixteen years. It seemed impossible, but he’d been working it out and sure as healthy shit was brown he’d now officially known Davy almost half his life.
He’d been mid-way through a pretty successful liquor store robbery the night they met. For a little guy Mark could be real intimidating when he wanted to be. All he needed was a stick hidden under a folded jacket and he’d have you believing you was about to get shot between the eyes if you didn’t do exactly what was being asked of you. This particular night, having bagged nearly three hundred bucks in cash and several cartons of smokes, Mark was home free when Davy had crashed into the store like some kind of herculean freak waving a broken chainsaw around, screaming “EVERYONE ON THE FLOOR NOW!”
Mark was on the ground trying to figure the odds when Davy accidentally struck himself on the side of the head with the body of the saw so hard he almost knocked himself clean out. Mark had laughed so much he dropped most of his stash and somehow the two had ended up making an empty-handed run for it together. They were chased for six miles, with the storekeeper and his shotgun-wielding nephew in hot pursuit. In fact it had taken all of Marks driving skills to keep the two 18 year olds from getting their asses shot off that night.
They became fast friends, and vowed to keep their work separate in future. In fact Davy briefly retired from the game when he took up an offer of work with the Salvation Army. This turned out to be a short-term venture as, after realising that he’d actually accepted an un-paid voluntary position, Davy decided it was acceptable to pay himself a modest wage and started pocketing around sixty bucks a week from the donations box.
He was caught, of course, and though he never fully understood why, politely but firmly asked to leave. Truth be told he was lucky not to have been sent to jail, but Mark stepped in and reminded those involved that Davy was “just a little slow in the brains department is all and meant no harm to no one”. The Salvation Army were true to their cause, letting Davy go with a firm telling off and a copy of the new testament.
Later that same year, after Davy’s father died from stomach cancer the two friends moved south to get away from the city, pooling their money together and opening a small dairy farm on the outskirts of Cherry Falls. Business had been okay for a while, but after the hurricane of ’87 most of the land and property was ruined, and the boys found themselves drifting back to their old ways.
By now Mark had pretty much become all that Davy knew, or wanted to know for that matter. Folk had a hard time figuring how to act around guys like Davy, and as a result Davy didn’t much care for other folk.
The seasons came and went, and with them Mark and Davy fell in and out of trouble. The story always stayed the same though. Davy and Mark didn’t share no blood but they were family, and they’d stand against anyone who tried to tell it otherwise.
When Mark finally finished building a small cabin house near Lake Hope with money inherited from an old relative it wasn’t long before Davy started living there. There was no denying it, Davy needed someone to look after him full time and Mark, who’d never really been one for socialising couldn’t deny he enjoyed the companionship. The situation worked for them, so they stuck with it.
That was nearly four years ago, and not one day could Mark remember them ever fighting. Sure, they’d get on each others tails every now and then but as far as friendships went, Mark figured he’d pretty much experienced the best there was.
It was from this cabin house the pair had loaded up the car and set out toward Peak Point some three hours ago. The news mentioned that the comets were going to hit in Austin so the boys knew they’d have a fair chance of seeing it happen from here.
Marks hand was wet. He looked down to see Kane licking at it, no doubt tasting the residual Dr. Pepper on his fingers. Davy was focused on trying to skim stones off the edge of the viewpoint.
Mark wandered over. “What you doing there, Davy?”
“Welcome back Mark!” Davy laughed.
“Welcome back! You’ve been standing over there daydreaming for nearly ten minutes! You ever skim stones before? I remember Daddy used to take me to the lake and give me a nickel for every bounce I made. Some days I came away with almost a dollar. That’s a lot for an eight year old, is a dollar.”
Mark nodded. “That the ol’ man used to beat on you?”
“Nah, different one.”
“Yeah, That was Daddy number two,” Davy giggled. “I called him Daddy-number-two for more’n one reason, get it? Anyways he left before I was ten and then daddy number three hit the scene-”
“-I remember the story.” Mark said, watching Davy toss another stone out into the ether. Just beyond it a large, dark uneven cloud had begun forming on the horizon.
“You think that’s the beginning of it Mark?”
Mark sighed as Kane bounced around at his feet.
A loud horn cut through the stillness. Mark and Davy turned to see a battered RV pulling into the parking bay where the Riviera sat. The RV screeched to a halt, sending large plumes of dust into the air. The driver clambered out of the door and drew what looked to be a small revolver from his suit jacket. He pointed it straight at Davy and Mark as he walked toward them shouting “ARE YOU TWO SAFE?”
Mark instinctively stepped in front of Davy shouting “Put the gun down man we ain’t armed.”
The stranger slowed his pace, paused then turned back toward the RV and called out. A young boy no older than ten peeked out from behind the door before jumping down onto the dirt. He was followed by a young girl of about fourteen. The two children walked up to the man and the three of them approached Mark and Davy.
“What’s happenin’ Mark?” Davy whispered as the smartly dressed family approached.
“Sorry for the show of force there, gentlemen. Can’t be too careful eh?”
The stranger still had his gun aimed casually at the two men as he walked up and eyed them carefully, offering his other hand.
“Guess not” Mark said as the two men shook hands. The driver nodded, slowly packing the pistol into the waistband of his pleated pants.
“It’s just, things are getting kinda crazy in town. People looting and stealing, fires being started all over the place. It’s like they’ve all gone crazy. You know I saw two guys smash a window and steal a couple of TVs from the store not two blocks from where I live? I ask you, what are you going do with a brand new TV? By the time you get it turned on and tuned in you’re going to be space-dust. Goddam fools, all of ’em.”
“Where you headed?” Mark asked.
“Don’t know, just had to get out. I didn’t want that to be the last thing my kids see, you know? People thieving and disrespecting each other like that. I want them to see something beautiful before we go. Figured I’d drive north ’til I hit deep country, we could breathe in some fresh pine and help each other as best we can, before all this is taken from us.”
“Well, ain’t that touching.” Mark said as he turned away and looked out across the desert.
“How about you two?” The driver asked.
“Us? We’re gonna sit right here and watch those motherfuckers rain down. We ain’t-”
“Hold on Davy.” Mark said “I’m talking to the man here.”
Mark turned to see what had grabbed Davy’s attention.
A giant spinning twister had formed some two or three miles out and was clumsily heading in their direction. Trees in the distance were flying out of the ground into the air like thorns plucked from the earths skin. Behind the first twister three smaller ones had burst up from the ground like mutated spinning tops and they too began following in it’s path.
“Oh shit.” Mark whispered to himself. “Oh shit.”
“MARK” Davy yelled as he began running back towards the Riviera “I DON’T WANNA STAY AND WATCH ANYMORE MARK.”
Davy was in the car trying to start it up as Mark ran after him.
“Davy wait. For Fucks’ sake WAIT. ”
The RV driver was running with his children back toward their vehicle calling to Davy and Mark over his shoulder “Get in here with us boys, it’s heavier, less chance of being picked up.”
Like a shot Mark turned and ran for the RV, dragging Davy with him. “He’s right Davy, them twisters’ll scoop us up like a tin can. That bus is heavier and faster than this piece of shit, let’s go.”
“But they’re strangers Mark, you told me never ever-”
“-They’re strangers with a big-ass bus Davy, now get.”
Mark and Davy reached the RV as the wind began picking up fast, swirling dust and sand all around them. “Jesus Christ they’re movin’ quick.” Mark yelled as he threw himself through the doors and into the vehicle. The children were already sitting in the front seat next to their Dad, their eyes wide and fixated as he slammed it into first gear. The wheels span and the RV lurched forward, jumping over the concrete divide and onto the wide dirt road. Mark was breathing hard as he sat down next to Davy who was staring out the back window as all but one of the fast approaching tornados began to head off to one side. Dust was flying thick and fast, trees were starting to bend and sway heavily as the gale picked up even further. Marks heart sank as he felt the angry swirling wind baring down on them.
As the RV found traction on the road Mark suddenly felt Davy’s hand grip his arm so tight he had to use all his strength to pull it free. Before he could say anything he looked up and saw Davy’s stricken face. His stomach lurched and he realised immediately what had happened.
“Kane” Davy said quietly. “I left Kane.”
Mark leapt out of his seat toward the driver, shouting over the noise of the engine and pounding wind “Hey. HEY.” The driver looked up at Mark.
“What is it?”
“We left our dog.”
The driver was quiet for a second before turning back to face the road.
“Then I’m sorry for you.”
Mark stared at the driver, before slowly turning back to face Davy. He shook his head, and Davy began to cry.
The bus raced at speed through the dust trails, groaning as it bounced heavily over the mounds and bumps in the road. “I hope this thing has damned good suspension,” Mark yelled “Or we’re about to end this ride before we begin it.”
“Don’t you worry, the suspension on this thing is as good as new.”
An almighty bang ripped through the air and the bus swerved heavily from left to right.
“Tires on the other hand are worn to shit.” the driver shouted as he tried to keep control of the careering beast. “Kids! Belt up!”
The RV veered left then right as it began losing traction. Chunks of rubber flew past the window and sparks began to fly. The children began screaming as they held each other tight. The contents of the RV were being thrown from side to side and it was all that Mark could do to keep from becoming air born.
A huge swerve to the left sent Davy and Mark slamming into the right side of the vehicle. Davy’s head connected hard with the handrail and he was out like a light. “SHIT” Mark shouted as they began to tip further and further. Two wheels carried them about twenty feet down the road before gravity won through and the whole thing tipped over on its side.
Mark made a grab for Davy, just managing to pull him near as glass began to burst and orange metal sprayed into the RV. Wedged between two seats, Mark strained to keep Davy from falling through the jagged edges of what once were windows. The children screamed, their belts only just holding them in their seats.
Finally the bus ground to a halt. Dust, smoke, dirt and the stench of burnt metal and rubber filled the air as Mark opened his eyes and tried to focus.
The roaring wind continued to punish the bus and its inhabitants, getting even stronger now as it began tearing through the RV’s very foundations, until suddenly they were moving again. The RV’s movements were irregular and jarring as it was dragged sideways along the ground. As it rattled and crunched its way along the tarmac Mark realised that they were now well and truly at the mercy of the twister.
It had caught them.
Mark struggled to stay conscious as the relentless wind intensified. Davy was out cold, a dead weight. The children screamed. The bus driver had fainted.
They spun. They spun and rolled around and around at varying speeds, a dizzying ride of blurred terror. Rushing wind continued to slam through the vehicle making it impossible to draw breath. Mark held Davy tight and prayed to whoever was up there to make it stop. His lungs burned and his eyes stung. His ears had burst with the sheer force of the wind and he could hear nothing but his own muted fear. He squeezed his eyes tighter and tighter shut and prepared himself for this to be it.
Mark awoke to a sound he couldn’t quite place. He opened his eyes slowly, and listened harder. Silence. He wasn’t sure if his ears had burst but the muted stillness surrounding him was both cold and unnerving. He recognised the back of Davy’s head and realised he was still wrapped around him, hugging him tight like a possessive parent.
Davy was awake. Sensing that Mark was too, he craned his head around to speak. “Mark?”
“Yeah, Davy.” Mark relaxed his embrace, stretching his stiffened arms out, flexing his hands.
“Are we dead Mark?”
“I don’t think so” Mark replied as he began looking around the bus.
The children were coughing hard, and he could see that they were still tightly belted into their seats.
The same couldn’t be said for the Bus driver who was ominously missing from his. There was hardly any glass left in the bus, the body and window frames were so buckled and bent it looked like it had gone backwards through a wrecking machine.
Mark and Davy pulled themselves out through what had been the rear window and helped the children onto the ground. The wind had slowed to a breeze and the air smelled like dirt.
“We gonna look for the man?” Davy said to Mark as he gestured toward the empty seat.
“Daddy’s gone” The girl said quietly, staring at the ground. Her brother was sitting down drawing small circles in the sand.
“I see that honey, that’s why we should go look for him.” Mark replied as he wiped dirt and sweat from his face with the corner of his shirt.
“She means he’s gone.” The boy looked up. “The twister got him. I saw him go. Sarah was holding his hand but the wind pulled him out and he flew away.”
The boy was crying now “He should’ve worn his belt, he always told us to wear a belt but he didn’t and now he’s dead.” the boy sobbed. The girl stared at the ground and began to kick at small rocks as a tear ran down into the corner of her mouth.
“Oh shit I’m sorry.” Davy whispered as he looked to Mark for help. Mark offered none. The man was dead, no two ways about it. No point pretending otherwise. Mark nodded. “We’d better make a plan. What time is it?”
“My watch broke.” Davy said, staring at the cheap plastic timepiece on his wrist.
“Great.” Mark grunted as he looked around.
The darkness made it impossible to see further than ten or fifteen feet ahead. The stillness was unnerving and the temperature had dropped so much Mark could see his own breath as he scanned the imaginary horizon.
A bark in the distance sent Mark and the others spinning around in the direction it had come from.
“The fuck…?” Mark whispered to himself as he tried to pinpoint the sound. He could see only darkness, and it wasn’t until Kane was almost upon him that he realised he wasn’t going crazy.
“MARK!!” Davy screamed as he fell to his knees and began rolling in the dirt with the eager dog.
“Mark! He made it! How could that happen? He made it!”
Mark watched as Davy and Kane rolled together in the dirt, Davy laughing like a child as Kane lapped at his face and pawed at his chest.
A long rumbling crack of thunder rang out in the distance. It wasn’t a sound Mark could remember ever hearing before. This was a long, low rolling drone from the heavens and Mark felt that nervous pang in his stomach again as he realised what it meant.
The sound of the gunshot rang out a split second after mark saw the dog lurch violently to the right. A tiny winded yelp left Kane’s mouth as a second shot sounded and blew out a tennis ball sized chunk of skull from just above its left eye.
Kane’s body dropped hard and Davy screamed as he pushed it off him. Blood poured from the dog’s head like a faucet. Mark looked up and saw the young girl Sarah standing with the gun aimed directly at them.
“It’s time” She said quietly.
“What did you do?” Davy screamed, tears pouring down his face. “MARK what did she DO??”
Mark stood frozen, trying to comprehend what had happened as Davy turned to face the girl, taking a step towards her. “Wait” Mark whispered as the girl aimed the gun, cocking it a third time while the boy watched over her shoulder.
“What did you do?” Davy sobbed as he advanced on the girl.
“WAIT!” Mark shouted, snapping out of his stupor and making a grab for Davy. Davy shook him off and stumbled forward, snot and tears covering his face.
“You’re a bad girl” He whimpered, raising his hands and reaching for the gun. “You’re a BAD G -”
“NO!” Mark screamed, making another grab for Davy as the crack of the pistol echoed for miles.
Davy stopped, then dropped to his knees before arching forward, landing hard on his face. A tiny trace of smoke billowed from the hole in the back of Davy’s head and as Mark saw this his own legs gave way and he fell backwards hard, sitting down in the dirt.
His head spun and his breath was short and suddenly nothing was real. Nausea screamed through his body and a white heat covered his skin. He put his hands on the ground to steady himself and was suddenly aware of the two children standing over him staring.
Mark looked up at the two young faces. Fear charged through him like electricity and his stomach felt like it was going to empty itself. His body felt weak and pathetic and sweat ran freely from every pore in his body. He looked at the children and before he could speak the boy began.
“Daddy told us we’d know when the time had come” He said gently. “He didn’t want us to get hit by them comets, or killed by fire or anything else, so we made a pact to take care of ourselves and help any others we found along on the way.”
“Help?” Mark whispered, his voice barely squeezing past his constricted throat.
“Yes, help.” The girl held up the gun. “Daddy gave me this when we got on the bus. That’s why we were going to the woods, to say a prayer and help each other out of harms way.”
The young boy knelt down in front of the girl and placed his hands in his lap. He smiled as he looked first at Mark and then up at his sister. “I love you Sarah.” he said. “Help me home?”
He closed his eyes as Sarah levelled the gun at his temple and he was dead before Mark could produce a sound.
The girl knelt beside her brother’s body and softly kissed the part of his face that was still intact. His hair was matted with blood and bone and she smoothed it down over his shattered skull. She turned to face Mark once more and this time his body did relax. Urine ran freely from him, darkening his pants. Steam rose from his lap and he began to cry.
“Shh” The young girl whispered. “All over soon.”
She leaned towards Mark and he let out a small sob as she put her arms around him and hugged him tight. “Will you help me home?” she whispered.
Mark could produce no words now. He cried freely as her embrace tightened and felt ever stronger, and for a brief moment Mark felt he could just give in and pass out right here in her arms.
He heard the hammer of the gun click into place and the air froze in his lungs.
He closed his eyes and waited.
The deafening shot burst through the air and sent his body into spasm as hot liquid sprayed his face and neck. He fell backwards and felt something heavy land in his lap. His heart raced and his chest pounded and his head spun yet still he found himself awake and aware.
He tried not to look as he pulled himself from under the dead girl. The upper half of her head had been blasted away from the lower and was spread up his chest like thick red marmalade. He wiped pieces of her face from his own and gagged hard as he used his hands to slide the fleshy mush off his shirt.
He pulled himself over to where Davy’s body lay face down in the dust. He curled up next to his best friend and hugged him tightly, sobbing even harder now as he tried to slow his racing mind. His body racked and convulsed with tears as the horror of it all ransacked his mind.
After a while the shock abated and exhaustion began to overcome him. He rolled onto his back and lay trembling as he took hold of Davy’s dead hand and gripped it tight.
The sky had lightened slightly, but huge dark shapes were forming high above, and Mark knew they weren’t clouds. He became aware once more of the thunder and this time his body relaxed.
He was crying still, but breathing more regularly now as he squeezed Davy’s hand, rubbing his thumb back and forth over Davy’s knuckles. The heavy rumbling became almost deafening as the dark shapes fell ever closer.
For a second he thought he could just make out the moon in the sky. The impending darkness made it hard to be sure but there was definitely something big and round and white up there.
‘Could be the moon, could be the sun’ he thought.
Hell, maybe his daddy hadn’t lied to him all those years, – maybe they really were one and the same after all.
With a shaking hand he lit the last cigarette he would ever smoke and decided it really didn’t matter a damn.
He laid back, stared up at the sky and watched those motherfuckers rain down.