End of Days, Book One.
Book 1- Opening
I'm watching the ashes stirring in the wind as loneliness floats by again. Can anyone else hear the sorrow growing louder, yet gentle, like the far away squeal of a car avoiding water? People stirring below my window, rushing to their cars and hurriedly phoning their loved ones... Why are they so scared of the rain? Can't they see the light breaking through the clouds, a pink and purple display of hope? Am I really the only one staying on the 14th floor, drawing pictures on the frosted window? No, I can hear Faith outside my door, crossing his arms like a bouncer, yet offset by his kindly face. I believe there are a few others who know this is where I am, and that I am staying. One might say that early retirement is the breeding ground of boredom. Others might say it’s the beginning of the end. Oh, how true the latter is.
The bedroom was always kind of boring, just plain blue walls holding up a ceiling with that all-too-familiar white paint design that appears to have been applied with a large, circular sponge. Inside the room was a bed, big enough for two, but only halfway turned down. The fourteenth floor had always been somewhat like an ordinary home, and less like an apartment complex, but now it seemed like more of the latter... I kept thinking to myself when I first moved in... (Why are hallways always taupe?) Well, this seems like a good place to stay, even if it is only for a little while.
This morning I supposed I'd make a few phone calls and have some friends come help fix this place up in preparation for tonight. (Hah, did I really expect them to show up?) While waiting, I got to work rearranging furniture and restocking the kitchen when I finally received word from the aforementioned friends. Apparently there was some sort of situation at the mall, and they got hung up in Abercrombie, all because of my stupid teens. "Alright, it’s ok, just bring them home," I told my friends.
Ah, Adelaide... what a daughter. Of course her big brother Thaddeus had always been protective, but she had always managed to outsmart him (There seems to be a pattern here!)... At the store, Adelaide had pulled the new jacket off, tossed her long brown hair back over her shoulders and proceeded to leave. Thaddeus had been too busy gawking at the other girls in the store and had not noticed Adelaide was still wearing a shirt, property of Abercrombie in Queens Mall, that she had tried on to find a jacket to match. Now I remember why they have to be carted around like elementary school children. It wasn't that she was trying to steal the shirt, but that, in her rush to finish (They had been gone for hours) she had forgotten to go back and retrieve her old shirt. Apparently, she has inherited her father's uncanny ability to forget anything that isn't attached.
I snapped back to life when I noticed it was getting dark, and realized I had been daydreaming for quite a while, while waiting for the party to rendezvous back home. The daywalkers were already heading home, clearing the streets for the ever-present New York night life, when I heard the door. I walked into the living room and peered through the peephole. My children were there, backed by my lifelong friends, Jack Hanson and Erik Catlett. They always stuck together, ever since high school. We would always hang out at Jack’s house, doing all sorts of crazy things. Once, we even attempted to form a band. Needless to say, it didn’t go anywhere. If it had, I would be in a mansion right now, a rock star rather than a retired youth minister. And here’s the door--
"Thanks, guys. Did you all have fun?" I asked.
"Yeah, Dad!" replied Adelaide. "We had a little bit of a hang-up, but I promise, I didn’t try to—"
"I know, Hon," I interjected. "Jack called and told me, it’s ok." I decided not to scold her, remembering how forgetful I had been in the past. I once lost my wallet, complete with 400 dollars, my social security card, and my driver’s license. "Come in, get cleaned up. We need to leave soon."
I stepped aside, and kissed Addie and Thad on the head as they entered the apartment. I motioned Jack and Erik to come in, and they did as directed. The three of us walked into the kitchen and sat at the table as we waited for the kids to get ready.
"So, Jake… We’re going to Alessandro’s, right? Because I really feel like Italian tonight, and I think that’s Kirsten’s favourite…" Erik inquired as he ran his fingers through his short, salt-and-pepper hair.
"Yeah. Don’t worry; nothing’s changed since we made the reservations. And don’t keep Kirsten’s attention all to yourself. We were all best friends in high school, you know." As I said this, the kids entered the room.
"That was fast! Ready for dinner?" inquired Jack. We had made dinner plans that morning, because an old friend had flown up from Florida with her kids. Addie, Thad and I nodded in approval and we all filed out of the apartment building and into his van. I turned on the ignition, and The Devil Wears Prada bled through the speakers at an alarming volume. I cut it off and turned to Jack, who was grinning from ear to ear. I meant to shoot him a glare, but his exceptionally large grin killed that idea, and infected me with its contagious humour.
"Some things never change." I put in one of the kids' CDs so they wouldn't complain. I had gotten used to the routine by now. Jack and Erik make faces at me while the kids giggle, same as always.
Acoustic guitars and light percussion fill the air, creating a poppy, optimistic soundtrack to our night drive. My passengers stared through the fingerprint-littered glass at the yellowish tinge cast by the street lights, and how it pulsed as I drove- black, dim, bright, dim, black. ["Lather, rinse, repeat," I used to say in my younger days.] I drove onward until we reached Alessandro's on 31st Street.
The kids ran in first, and had already grabbed a table with the others. It seems they already knew the plan. So we followed suit, and there she was, at the end of the table.
I wonder if she remembers all the conversations we had back in high school, all the good times we had hanging out. She was a very big source of support for me... Kirsten Limons was always easy to talk to, and very kind. She was a great friend, and she was always there, so how could she have forgotten?
I strolled up to the table. I was going for more of a casual, smile-and-wave type of approach, but it was quite apparent this was no way to greet an old friend you hadn't seen in quite a while... She had leapt from her seat and squealed, followed by a rather hearty embrace. I was a bit taken aback by the lonely atmosphere of the table. There was a single candle, flickering in the middle of the large booth table, illuminating what should have been her husband, Stephen. In his stead was a stack of books (study Bibles and such) topped with a dainty little purse.
"So where's Stephen?" I inquired. First mistake of the day... it was bound to happen soon. I should have known. For only a moment, I noticed a somber look fall on her face. She closed her eyes for just a bit longer than a standard blink, and that award-winning smile flashed right back, as if to dispel any negative emotion that might be brewing.
"He died last June," she replied. She kept that same warm aura about her, a cloud of security against an unforgiving and cruel reality. Apparently, Kirsten had decided to put this behind her and move on- no, not to forget. She was never the type to dismiss things of such magnitude simply because they are now gone, especially things that have influenced her in such a profound way. (She did have 2 kids, after all.)
I felt as though she wasn’t still hurting or dwelling, but I still gave her a hug, an attempt to ease a nonexistent pain, possibly. Oh, but it was more than a mistake, and far from an accident. I just knew we both had needed the company; I was overdue for someone in my same situation. Kirsten already knew Karen had died, but I had not wanted to talk about it yet... I just couldn't cope with the loss of my wife. Kirsten always seemed stronger than I was.
I suppose she was. Pain was a dear friend of mine, and I never learned how to deal with him correctly. This used to get me into trouble quite frequently... But more recently, may have strained a very important tie; that of a father and his daughter. ---
Oh Jeez, I thought. How am I supposed to keep this a secret? What have I done? I didn't think I would ever have this problem again, but Karen... God, why? I know she was Yours, but why did You want her so badly? What am I supposed to do? THIS? I wrapped the towel around the wound, and lazily lobbed the razor into the sink. "TINK." Two points. What a sick sense of humour I have. I bent over to scratch what turned out to be quite a perfectly timed itch. As I do so, the towel falls, the blood continues flowing, and the door opens. It's Adelaide.
"Daddy? DADDY!?" She spots the razor in the sink. I notice her expression fade from excitement into anger- no, rage. "DADDY! WHAT THE HELL?!?" she screams, half crying. She follows with a prompt smack to my face. She's still quite upset with me, yet she grabs my arm, and runs it under the sink. As she opens the medicine cabinet, I notice something that disturbs me. She has the same motherly attributes Karen had. Karen could be completely ticked at you, all the while still administering care. She finished wrapping the arm in gauze and looks me square in the face, saying, "I need you, Dammit." I was going to comment on the language (we called them Brandi-words, after Karen's mother's rather colourful vocabulary) but decided against it in light of the circumstance. And that's all I heard of her the whole night. In fact, that was all I heard from her all that week.
---Since then, things had been kind of shaky with Addie Dear, but slowly regaining their old composure, although she still looks at me with that expression that smugly says I'm watching you, Mister. You better be on guard. I'm not worried. She didn't tell Thaddeus, I know that much. It's been a year since that incident, and she does everything I tell her to obediently, God bless her. I hope it isn't because she is afraid I will repeat my mistakes…
I can't help but notice, she does EVERYTHING like her mother. It fills me with a sort of sad longing, and, at the same time, a sense of brilliant accomplishment and pride. A sort of That's My Girl! attitude, I suppose, but that never hurt anyone, except in cartoons and sitcoms.
This evening had seemed to drag by. It was almost as if none of us belonged here. Kirsten had taken her kids to my place so we could have some more time to catch up on what we've missed. It had been three years, easy. The kids were in the living room watching a DVD Thad bought earlier today, in Queens Mall. It seemed a shame they lived so far apart, because all four of these children got along famously. What's more, they were just as much buddies with Erik and Jack as I was, as displayed here by their familiar shapes sitting Indian style next to the kids, sort of sandwiching them in.
Across the table, she sat her cup down and broke the silence that often graced this kitchen. It's not that we didn't spend a lot of time here, it's just that the kitchen had somehow always been a place of a "business first" mindset.
"When Karen died..." She knew she was dancing around a touchy subject, but she simply continued to wander. "When Karen died, why didn't you call me? You know I would have been there. You know I would have helped you through it, but instead, here you sat..." she motioned with her hands a sort of sweeping movement across the table. "...in this kitchen, night after night, sipping your french vanilla coffee and crying into your palms. Am I right?" Her usual smile has hardened into a look that showed a much older and wiser person. A person I had never known. Scary as it was, I also took a sort of comfort in it.
I literally felt my face gain a haggard look. "...I never could hide anything from you, could I? These last two years have been the hardest in my whole life, and it's not like me to keep to myself this much, and to lack the ability to move on." I truly could not comprehend it, myself.
"I suppose years of mental gregariousness can't be all that fulfilling? I mean, you have a dead wife you still think about when your head hits the pillow! Your kids seem to have healed better than you have..." Kirsten seemed to realize what she had been saying, and the clarity and depth with which she spoke to me. I caught on, and summarized that she was speaking to herself, just as much as she was speaking to me. I could see the pain in her face. June was six months behind her, yet she still hurt as if Stephen died just yesterday. She seemed to have noticed my perception, and we smiled, feeling proud of our mediocre telepathic abilities.
"Well, you never called me, either. I suppose we are dealing with the same situation here, and it takes two to tango, as they say."
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Go for it," I replied. She seemed hesitant, but thirsty for the knowledge the answer to her question would no doubt bring.
"...Does it get any easier? Even just a little?"
"No." We stared at each other for a quite a while, each attempting to ease the other's pain through sympathy. The orangey glow of the sconces and the whispy, twirling steam emitted by our mugs seemed to pull me back into this world, but only long enough to observe them with clarity, before my thoughts twisted and mimicked the steam, in lieu of the aftertaste of coffee and the laughter of the children [and young at heart] in the living room. Kirsten, that dear woman, let my mind drift like a boat in a vast ocean.
"Jake, Hon…" She finally woke me up. I looked at the clock, and felt my face flush. I had been out of it for half an hour. I apologized, to which she had this retort, "Am I that boring?" Her smile was still warm, her voice still soothing.
I chuckled. "Not at all. I’ve just got a lot going on up there," I explained as I pointed to my forehead. "But I’m willing to bet you gathered that. Kirsten, it’s really been great seeing you again."
"Yes, it has. Pity you couldn’t be here tonight," she joked, referencing my moment of absent-mindedness. "Jake, it’s been a long time, and I’ve missed you dearly." She took my hand. "You have always been one of the best friends I have ever had. I don’t expect that to change. Can I ask a favour of you?"
"Absolutely. What can I do for you?"
"Well, I know this is going to be a rough time." She twirled the index finger of her other hand around her shoulder-length, brown hair. This made her look exceptionally younger, more efficiently than any cream or cosmetic could do. "I’m going to need someone to talk to. Could you…?"
I was just about to answer (Of course it would have been yes), but my cup began to rattle, and the lights began to flicker. I knew right away an earthquake was upon us. Being on the fourteenth floor has its aesthetic charms, but structurally speaking there are much more stable places to be. Knowing this, I yelled to the kids and my other friends in the living room. "GET DOWNSTAIRS!" Then I turned. "FOLLOW THEM, KIRSTEN! HURRY! GO, THIS COULD BE BAD!"
I hadn’t the slightest clue.
The cup escaped my grasp, shook violently, and rolled off of the table, spilling coffee as it went. I watched it fall, and shatter into a hundred tiny, sharp pieces. I took pity on the cup, and also felt familiarity with it. IT was then I began contemplating the idea of staying here. Going down with the ship, as they say. But a moment later, I regained my reasoning process, recognizing the fact that I had children to take care of, dead wife or no. I stood up and started to run toward the door. I couldn’t imagine losing my fall and dying in this building. But God punishes us for what we can’t imagine.
On my way to the door, My foot caught on the leg of the table, and I fell hard onto the shards of my cup. Of course, adrenaline kept this from hurting at the moment. I looked up, just as the ceiling cracked. As dust fell, and the corners of the room crumbled, I felt the weight of the remaining 6 floors of this apartment building come crashing down on me, screaming, knowing my children and friends would soon feel this. I think they did the same.
I regained my consciousness a moment later, noticing there was a bright light shining outside of my eyelids. Assuming I lay in a hospital bed, higher than high on painkillers, I opened my eyes, and was immediately filled with joy, and with sorrow. I found myself in the greatest paradise, the one and only Heaven.
I looked to the ground and saw the grass matted down where I had been laying, and I looked up at the city, the impossibly clean and beautiful creation of none other than the almighty God. I became excited, but sad that I could not see my friends and family yet. I pushed my way through the garden of snapdragons and beebalm, and between the two willows that lay before me. The smell was incredible, like the freshest laundered clothes, the sweetest fruit…
I looked at the ground once more, noticing the grass had turned to cobblestone, and then I heard Him. I looked up, and beheld the one and only God Almighty, and His son, Jesus Christ. I noticed seven figures in white cloaks, hoods up, were on either side of this holy spectacle. I dropped to my knees and burst into tears. I attempted to speak, but a watery croak was all I could muster. And thank goodness, what would I have said? I looked back up through my tears and He spoke to me, God Himself.
"Jacob, my son, it is not yet your time. You can see no more of this place yet." I was going to ask why, but He knew I was. "Your work is far from done. I have chosen you to come out of retirement," He said with a smile. His face became serious again as he spoke. "The End of Days is near. I plan to send Jesus back to Earth very soon, just as prophesized in the book of Revelation. You have one week." He knew I had another question. "I am sorry, Jacob, but Karen is not here. She denied me just as I called her to me. I will explain more later." He knew of this next one too, but he let me ask it.
"Yes, My God. I only have one question. Where… Are my children and friends…?"
God waved a mighty hand, and the seven figures put down their hoods. I wept at the feet of Jesus, God Himself, and my friends and family.
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