Chapter no 3

The Cabin at the End of the World

Eric was a striker for his high school soccer team. He wasn’t the most skilled player but his coach always made it a point to praise him for being fearless when going after headers, particularly off corners and direct kicks. Most of the team’s set pieces were designed to get Eric a free run at volleys into the box. In mid-September of his senior season he knocked heads with a burly defensive back as they both went for a ball bending toward the far post.

He doesn’t remember the forty minutes of game play preceding the collision. The collision itself he remembers as a snapshot, a still photo of the green grass and chalk lines and other players frozen in athletic poses staged by some secret hand and the blue sky decorated with bright, cartoonish, white stars. Eric missed two weeks of practice and games after the concussion.

He forced his way back onto the field before he was ready with the hope that he could help the team earn a trip to the state tournament. They didn’t make it. For the rest of that season, after each header, Eric had a high-pitched ringing in his ears that would fade over time like the volume was slowly turned down but not all the way off.

His ears are not ringing now. His headache isn’t a sharp pain and is instead an insistent pressure radiating out from the back of his skull, lodging against his forehead, throbbing in sync with his heartbeat. The sunlight pouring through the shattered slider doors is an assault under which he withers and cannot escape. Eric lowers his head and turns away from the light despite how much it hurts to move his head in the slightest. Even squinting is painful as it feels like he’s pushing his eyes back into his head where there is simply no more room for anything. The damned light finds its way through closed eyelids, anyway, creating a blotchy red mapping of his torture.

The woman in the white shirt is behind him, cleaning up the cut on the back of his bald head. She says, “Try not to move. Almost done.”

The light in the cabin mercifully dims as the late-afternoon sun hides behind clouds. Unable to walk out onto the back deck, Eric has no way of knowing how long the cloud relief will last. Waves of nausea rise and fall and his view of the cabin has a haze, as though he’s looking through a dirty window.

Eric is sitting in a kitchen chair. His legs are tied to the chair’s wooden legs with white rope about a quarter inch thick. His hands and arms are bound behind his back, and by the feel of it, they used the same rope or cord with the wrapping thickest around his wrists. He wiggles his fingers and attempts to flex and bend his wrists, but it all somehow increases the pressure in his head.

Andrew is similarly restrained in a chair offset to Eric’s right. Andrew’s head is down and his long hair obscures his face. His chest rises and falls evenly, straining against the loops of rope that affix his torso to the chair backing. Eric cannot remember if anyone struck or attacked Andrew, and he does not remember how they got to be anchored to the chairs. He remembers running for the door and falling and then seeing the ceiling from an impossible distance below.

He doesn’t know if Andrew has already begged and pleaded with the others to leave them alone, to let them go. He doesn’t know if Andrew and the others have come to some sort of bargain or agreement. Did Andrew give in, surrender? Andrew hasn’t surrendered to anyone or anything in his life and it’s a big part of why Eric loves him. He remembers jagged pieces of the whispered conversation they had by the barricaded basement stairs and laughing at hitting the others with logs and how Andrew was willing to stay behind in order to get Eric and Wen to the SUV. Eric wants to ask Andrew a question, but he’s afraid to ask the wrong one.

Wen is unrestrained. She sits on the floor between Eric and Andrew, her legs crossed atop a pile of pillows and blankets scavenged from one of the bedrooms. The three of them fill the area where the couch had once occupied the common room.

The couch is now up against the far wall, below the flat-screen TV. Redmond is the gargoyle of the couch, perched, slouched forward, grunting and muttering to himself. He dabs his nose and swollen lips with a white kitchen hand towel, checking for blood.

The woman in the black shirt is on the deck, readjusting the screen door slider in its frame. It won’t stay in the track and she says, “Goddammit,” each time it falls out and in an accent that is not of New England.

Leonard is in the kitchen, sweeping broken glass into a metal dustpan. He dumps the debris into the garbage. The high-pitched frequency of grinding and breaking glass is as loud as a crumbling skyscraper, and the noise overstresses the hardware in Eric’s head.

Wen’s favorite show, Steven Universe, is on the TV, playing a few feet above Redmond’s head. The TV’s volume is too much for Eric. He has asked multiple times that they turn it down, and Leonard did as was asked the first two times but has since only pretended to turn down the volume, picking up the remote and pointing it at the TV, but no red volume bar then shows on the screen.

The woman in the white shirt finishes taping a pad of folded-up paper towels to the back of Eric’s head. She says, “I don’t think you need stitches, but it’s a pretty nasty cut back there.” The scalp on the back of his head is numb. He wants to feel the dressing with his fingers, verify its physical existence, but cannot.

With the sunlight still cowering behind clouds, the pressure in his head lowers out of the code-red range. Eric looks down at Wen. He wants her to talk to him, to say something, anything. He says, “Hey, Wen. I’m finally a match, you know?” He twists his head and shows off the bandaging. “Like I belong with you guys now. This isn’t like, um, me shaving. It’s going to be real now.” He isn’t explaining himself well. He means to say he’ll now have a scar on his head just like Wen and Andrew have on theirs.

Wen doesn’t speak and she keeps her eyes on the TV. Scooting over closer to Eric, she leans her head against his legs.

That Eric will now have a real, legit scar fills him with unexpected happiness, and he laughs, but then he thinks about the next time he shaves and how Wen won’t need to inspect his bald head for nicks and fake scars that always fade away in a matter of hours. The scar will already be there, red and permanent. Losing that odd little post-head-shaving ritual with Wen is suddenly the saddest thing he can think of and his odd laughter morphs into a grotesque mix of manic, percussive cackles and uncontrollable, chestheaving sobs. Having recently (and obsessively) read about the many, often undiagnosed concussive blows football and soccer players suffer, Eric is able to recall that having wild, unpredictable emotional swings is a symptom of a severe concussion, but it doesn’t help and doesn’t stop his tears.

The woman behind him pats his shoulder and shushes him, saying, “It’s okay. You’ll be all right.”

Leonard leaves the dustpan on the floor next to the plastic garbage bin and leans the straw broom against the refrigerator. He asks, “Is Eric cleaned up?”

She says, “He’s cleaned up, yeah, but severely concussed.”


“Yes, mostly.”

The two of them continue a quick and clinical discussion of Eric’s condition like he isn’t there. Andrew whispers Eric’s name. Eric tries to give Andrew a smile, to let him know that he’s okay, but he’s still crying.

Leonard tiptoes in from the kitchen and to the center of the common room. For a big man, he moves gracefully, but the floorboards betray him and creak under his weight. He bends from his great height and plants his hands on his knees. “Hi, Eric. Are you feeling better? Oh, Wen, I’m sorry.” Leonard deftly sidesteps to Eric’s left to keep from blocking Wen’s view of the TV. He says to Wen, “I’ve never watched this show before but I like it.

And it seems like a very you show.”

Eric says, “What does that mean?” He sounds so loud to himself. Is he shouting?

Leonard clasps his hands together. “The characters are, well, you know, smart, and, um, good-“

Redmond, still on the couch, laughs and shakes his head.

Leonard gives Redmond a dark look and then crouches down so that his head is below Eric’s. This guy is young and he is someone who will always look young until the one day he doesn’t. “I get the sense the show teaches, or explores, empathy and tolerance.”

Redmond says, “Makes me feel all squishy inside.”

Andrew says, “Empathy and tolerance. Is that what you’re here to talk about now that you have the queers tied up?”

Leonard stands up and says, “Andrew, I assure you that we’re not here with hate or prejudice in our hearts. Not at all. That’s, um, that’s not us, not who we are.”

The others speak at the same time as Leonard. The woman behind Eric squeezes his shoulders and talks, but he only hears some of what she says. “-not one homophobic bone in my body.” The woman in the black shirt calls out from the deck/kitchen area, “I don’t hate anybody, just this friggin’ screen slider.”

Leonard drones on. “Not who I am. You have to believe me on that. We are not here because-“

Andrew says, “Because we’re fags?”

Leonard blushes, like a teen trapped in a lie. He stammers, sounding less and less confident with each syllable. “I know how this looks and I understand you thinking that. I really do. But I promise you that’s not why we’re here.”

Andrew isn’t looking at Leonard but at Redmond, who stares back at him with a cracked leer. He says, “You promise me, huh?”

“Yes, I do. We all promise, Andrew. We’re just normal people like you, and we were thrown into this-this extraordinary situation. I want you to know that. We didn’t choose this. We’re here because, just like you, we have to be. We have no choice.”

Andrew says, “There’s always a choice.”

“Yes, okay, you’re right, Andrew. There’s always a choice. Some choices are more difficult than others. We choose to be here because it’s the only way we can help.” Leonard looks at a thick, black-banded wristwatch with a white face as large as a sundial. “Hey, everyone come in here, please. It’s almost time.” He holds a hand out, wiggles his fingers in a come-here gesture.

Andrew asks, “Time for what? You don’t need us tied up. You’re here to talk so we’ll talk. All right?” He struggles against his restraints, pulling his legs up hard enough to make the chair jump in place. No one tells him to stop.

The woman in the white shirt steps out from behind Eric and stands next to Leonard. The woman in black walks in from the deck and slowly closes the screen door. Her care is overexaggerated and she says, “If it falls out again, I’m going to stab it dead.”

Redmond says, “Tsk, tsk, such violent language.”

She gives Redmond the finger, then says to Wen, “Hey, sorry. Poor choice of words and finger.”

The woman in the off-white shirt-or pearl, at least compared to the bright, starched-looking white of Leonard’s shirt-steps up and says. “Hi,

Eric, Wen, and Andrew. My name is Sabrina.” She smiles and waves at Wen. She’s young, too, younger than Eric’s and Andrew’s almost forty, anyway, and thin but broad shouldered. Her brown hair is between a bob cut and shoulder length, and curly at the ends. Freckles dust across the bridge of a long nose that dives deeply beneath her large, egg-shaped brown eyes. “I live in Southern California. You can tell by my tan, right?” She smiles, and it disappears immediately. She folds her hands behind her back and looks up at the ceiling as she says the rest. “I live in a town you’ve probably never heard of. I’ve been a post-op nurse for almost five years and was planning to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner. I, um, used most of my savings to come out to New Hampshire, to come here to talk with you guys.” She rubs her face with both hands and says, “I have a little half sister back home, my dad remarried like ten years ago, and, Wen, you kind of remind me of her.”

Wen shakes her head no and continues watching Steven Universe.

Sabrina walks behind Leonard, turns away from everyone, and holds a hand to her forehead and then down to her mouth.

Leonard pats her shoulder once and says, “Thank you, Sabrina. Right, so as I think you know already, my name is Leonard. I’m good at catching grasshoppers, right, Wen?” He pauses, waits, and Wen nods. Leonard tilts his head and smiles. Andrew spasms in his chair against the restraints. Eric knows that Andrew wants to thrash this man for that smile and for making their daughter nod her head the way she did. “I live just outside of Chicago. I help run an after-school sports program at an elementary school, and I bartend, too. I love working with kids but the after-school program isn’t full-time yet and doesn’t pay a ton.” He pauses again, like he forgot the next line in a script. Sabrina, as far as Eric can figure, was telling the truth. He isn’t sure about Leonard. “I haven’t been to a cabin like this since my parents took me to the Lake of the Woods, which is up in Minnesota if you’ve never heard of it. Kind of a famous spot. We used to go there every summer. I read the Tim O’Brien book that was set on the lake in high school but didn’t like it very much.”

Andrew says, “It’s a brilliant novel. One of my favorites.”

Eric almost starts crying again because he loves Andrew for not being able to help himself.

Leonard says, “Yeah, but it’s too dark and sad for me. Maybe it would’ve been different if it wasn’t set at my favorite place. This is a beautiful spot, here, too.” Leonard closes his eyes, like he’s lost in the reverie of prayer. “I’ve always wanted to end up in a place like this.”

Redmond starts in, almost cutting off Leonard. “Okay. Me? Am I next? Hi there, my name is Redmond and I like long walks on the beach and I like beer.” He laughs long and loud at his own joke. The other three give him a look that glances off him to somewhere else in the room, anywhere else that isn’t Redmond. It’s a shared look communicating clearly they don’t like him.

Leonard speaks in a voice that Eric imagines he uses with the kids in his after-school program, real or imagined. “This is important. We already discussed this. They deserve to know who we are.”

Redmond jabs a hand toward Leonard as he speaks, “You’re so concerned what they think and feel when it doesn’t matter, not one bit.” He points that punctuating hand at Andrew and Eric. “No offense, fellas,” then back at Leonard, “And it doesn’t change what it is we have to do and it doesn’t change what they are going to have to do. So let’s stop pretending any of this bullshit matters and just get to it.”

Leonard says, “When you say stuff like this and sound how you sound, you scare them, and make it less likely they’ll believe us and cooperate.”

“I don’t know, Leonard.” Redmond says his name like he’s teasing, mocking him somehow. “Have you considered that breaking in, tying them to chairs, and then us standing here like a bunch of freaks, cleaning up, making house, grinning like dick-holes, and now introducing ourselves like we’re all at a goddamned family reunion or something, is what’s scaring them?”

“This is how it’s supposed to be.”

“Ah, yes, right. I guess I didn’t get that particular memo.”

“No, I guess you didn’t.”

“Of course you’re the only one who did,” Redmond mumbles, a pouting child who isn’t getting his way.

Sabrina says, “What are you talking about? We already told you that Adriane and I got the same message, too.”

Redmond’s wide face flushes to the color of his shirt. “Whatever. It still doesn’t make-“

Leonard takes a hard, floor-shaking step toward Redmond and the couch.

Redmond jumps up and raises hey-I-surrender hands. “Okay, okay, my turn it is. Hey, I’m the local boy. Live in beautiful Medford, Massachusetts.” He exaggerates a Boston accent with the long aaaah sound in the front. “I work for the gas company making sure houses and apartment buildings don’t blow up. I’m single, if you can believe that. Sabrina and Adriane don’t seem to care, though. Ha ha, right? I’ve done some time, as they say. I did a lot of, uh, questionable stuff when I was young and stupid, but I’m much better now. And I mean that sincerely.” He pauses, presses the towel to his lip, and then holds his arm out straight to his right and drops the towel. It parachutes to the couch. “You know, my father used to beat the shit out of me, like Andrew just did. Would you believe me if I said I never deserved it? I wish I could go back in time and give the kid-me this thing.” He picks up the oar with the sledgehammer and trowel/shovel blades Qtipping each end, shakes it, like he’s sizing it up for a mighty swing. He looks at Andrew, leans the weapon against the couch, and says, “Christ, guy, all my front teeth are loose, still bleeding. Remind me not to fuck with you again. But I knew you were lying about having a gun. So fucking obvious in so many ways that you didn’t have one. The funny part is-“

Leonard shouts, “Redmond!”

“Yeah, yeah, fine. So how’s all that?” He holds his arms out wide. “Me in thirty seconds. Damaged goods but I have a heart of gold; here to help save the world and all that. Can I get a hug now, Adriane?”

Adriane walks past Redmond to the center of the room and says, “I’d rather work on that screen door for eternity.” She claps her hands and says, “I’m always the last one. I know this is so weird but-“

Eric says, “Okay, hold on a second. We get that you guys are part of some group and it sounds like you want to”-his pause becomes a stammer

-“er, what, fix things? Help?”

Andrew says, “Eric, you don’t have to-“

“No, I’m okay, a little scrambled, but I want to say this.” He takes two deep breaths and prays a silent please-God-get-us-out-of-this-safely complete with an Amen. “If you’re trying to recruit us, I mean, why else bother introducing yourselves to us, right?” Eric lets out a groan. He’s frustrated with himself because he didn’t intend to say the last part, to say exactly what he was thinking instead of sculpting his words into a pointed, purposeful statement. “If you’re trying to recruit us, or what, change us, make us different?” He’s again verbalizing what’s in his head and not curating something a bit more politic. Eric is supposed to be the great communicator, builder of compromise and consensus. He can do this; he just needs to concentrate harder. “This, all this, isn’t the way-“

Eric is cut off by the vengeful return of the sun. Its rays burn through the cabin and his head and fill the rotten world with hateful, damning light.


Wen has seen this episode of Steven Universe before. Steven is called away from his favorite TV show by Peridot’s distress call. Steven and the Crystal Gems rush to the dangerous communications hub to take apart what Peridot had rebuilt without their knowing. Two of the gems, Pearl and Garnet, merge together (Amethyst is sad and feels left out) and form Sardonyx, a magician who also carries a war hammer, a long thin pole with two giant cube-shaped fists at the end. Steven and Sardonyx break the hub apart. But the hub is restored the next day and the day after and they keep having to return to tear the hub down. Pearl eventually admits she is the one who keeps rebuilding the hub because she loves how it feels to merge with Garnet and become the powerful Sardonyx.

Eric’s voice is soft and high pitched. “Can someone put the curtain back up? The big blue one. Over the slider.”

Wen watches the show, but isn’t really watching. She can both watch and not-watch at the same time. She’s good at it because she secretly has two brains. One brain dreams of becoming Sardonyx and sweeping the four strangers into the garbage with her war hammer. With her other brain, she ignores the television and watches what’s happening and listens to what is being said in the cabin. She pays close attention, and despite how dangerous everything feels, she can hide and stay safe inside this other brain, while scheming, plotting, waiting for a signal or message from either one of her dads to do whatever it is they’ll need her to do.

Everyone is talking over one another.

“What’s wrong with Eric?”

“When you have a concussion, you’re extremely sensitive to light.”

“There’s nothing we can do about that now.”

“He’s only going to get better if he rests in a dark room or if we make it dark in here.”

“I don’t think we should move him until after we make our, um-“

“Our proposal?”


“Yeah. Let’s make a deal. Door number three, man, it’s always door number three.”

“You can’t joke about this.”

“I can and I have to.”

“Because you’re an asshole?”

“Because I’m scared shitless just like everyone else.”

“He might need to be in a darkened room for days, not just a few hours.”

Eric stirs as much as his tied-down body allows. Wen lifts her head away from his legs. He says, “You’re not separating me from Wen and Andrew. I’ll be fine.”

He doesn’t sound fine. Wen doesn’t want to look at him because of how not-fine he sounds.

Andrew says, “Come on, just untie him. He’s not going anywhere.”

“I’ll see what I can do with the curtain,” Redmond says and walks into the kitchen and the slider door’s frame.

Adriane says, “If you knock out that screen-“

“Yeah, I know, I get it. Do your intro thing so we can get this over with.”

Andrew starts to say something, but Adriane interrupts and says, “We’ll answer all of your questions real soon. Just let me get through this. I’ll be quick.” She moves differently than the others, a weird combination of hyper and slow.

There was one day during this past February school vacation week Daddy Eric worked from home. He spent most of the day on the phone, doodling on a cube of yellow sticky notes. Each doodle was a stick figure he penned in the lower right corner of a sheet. Its head had long stringy J’s on each side, which was supposed to represent Wen’s hair. He spent hours drawing the same figure over and over again, one per individual sticky note. He was finished drawing at the same time he proclaimed his workday completed. She asked him what it was and he said he made a cartoon. He showed her how to flip the notes, bending the pad and using his thumb to let the individual sheets tick by. The stick figure waved, did some deep knee bends, three jumping jacks with her arms blurring over the stick-figure head, and then she jumped in the air and flew back and forth across the yellow pages like a superhero.

The herky-jerky way the minimovie stick-figure Wen moved is how Adriane moves. It makes Wen want to watch her closely.

“So, yeah, I’m Adriane. I’ve been a lot of things but right now, or before I came up here, I was a line cook at a Mexican restaurant in Dupont Circle, D.C. I could show you my forearms covered in burn marks.” Her hands are alive, flapping around, crashing into each other, sock puppets in a Punch and Judy show. There’s a thick black ring on the thumb of her right hand and she twists it or checks to see if it’s still there after all the hand waving. She talks with a papery rasp that pitches her voice, making it sound lower and higher at the same time. Wen decides that this is how all people who live in Washington, D.C., talk.

“What else? Um, I have two cats, and you’d love them, Wen. Their names are Riff and Raff.” Adriane’s hair is longer than Sabrina’s and much darker. Probably fake darker. Her eyebrows are thin and arched, encroaching on her forehead. She looks like the youngest of the four from a distance, but the oldest when she’s close up because of crinkle lines that show around her mouth and eyes. “Do you like cats, Wen?”

“You don’t have to answer her,” Andrew says, and he says it like he’d be mad at her if she did.

She answers in her head. Yes, I like all animals.

Leonard turns off the television, tosses the remote control onto the couch, and checks his watch again. “Sorry, Wen. Maybe I’ll put it back on later.”

The room darkens as the sun continues to play hide-and-seek. Shade blankets the deck and seems to act as soundproofing for the surrounding forest, muffling bird chirps and insect wings.

Redmond stands dumbly in front of the slider doors with the heading of the curtain in his hands, the rest pooling around his feet and ankles. His fingers are lost inside the thick loops through which the rod is supposed to pass.

“Forget the curtain. It’s time,” Leonard says.

Redmond doesn’t respond with a joke. He drops the curtain, walks back into the center of the room, and stands with the others. The four of them make a line across the room. Seeing them together in their button-down shirts and jeans makes Wen afraid all over again. How they are dressed must mean something important but no one has explained why and maybe they’ll never explain why.

Andrew says, “Wait, hold on, time for what? Keep talking to us. We’ll listen. We are listening . . .”

Leonard smiles weakly. “Wen asked me earlier if the four of us were friends. I did not lie to her then and I will not lie to you now, not ever. I don’t know if I can say that Sabrina, Adriane, and Redmond are my friends exactly. But I trust in them and I believe in them. They’re regular everyday people like me-“

Andrew mutters but loud enough to be heard, “Fucking hell, someone save us from all the everyday people.” His pleading tone from a moment ago disappears, and he sounds angry, like Professor Daddy, which is what she and Eric teasingly call him when he lectures about minor infractions that include abandoning glasses of water or juice boxes on the windowsills, leaving cereal bowls half filled with milk next to the kitchen sink, and not replacing the toilet paper roll after one is spun down to the cardboard tube. Leonard stammers and fumbles through “-and regular just like you.” Redmond laughs.

Leonard twists left and right as though looking to fellow actors who have forgotten a line or cue. “Let me start by telling you the four of us didn’t meet each other in person for the first time until this morning.”

The three others nod. Sabrina has her arms crossed, and she swirls tiny circles on the floor with a foot. Redmond has his hands behind his back and his jaw clenched tight. Adriane’s face swaps into and out of an odd smile or a snarl and a wince at a punch she sees coming.

“Look, Leonard, just let us go and we won’t call the police or anything, we won’t, okay? I promise . . .”

“As you’ve heard, we’re all from different parts of the country and we didn’t know each other before”-Leonard holds his arms out-“before this. We didn’t even know that each other existed before last Monday. 11:50 P.M. I know the exact time my life changed forever. That’s when I first got the message. They got the message, too. The same message. We were called and are united by a common vision, which has now become a command we cannot ignore.”

Andrew thrashes around in his chair.

Eric says, “Stop, just stop, please. Please, God, whatever this is.

Stop . . .”

Wen wishes she had the small shovel in her hands. She wishes the TV were still on. She wishes she could stop shaking. She gets up and scrambles behind Andrew’s chair.

“Wen, I’m sorry, I really am, but it’s important that you hear this, too.

What you decide is as important as what your dads decide.”

Andrew shouts, “Don’t talk to her! Don’t say anything to her!”

Eric calls out to Wen and tells her that she’ll be okay, that everything will be all right. The white wad of paper towel as big as a movie screen on the back of his head has a bright red bull’s-eye. She feels terrible that she went behind Andrew’s chair and not Eric’s but she doesn’t move.

Leonard says, “The four of us are here to prevent the apocalypse. We- and by we I mean everyone in this cabin-can stop it from happening but only with your help. In fact, it’s more than help. Ultimately, whether the world ends or doesn’t end is entirely up to you three. I know it’s a horrible burden, believe me, I do. I didn’t want to believe it, either, when I first got the message. I tried to ignore it.” Leonard looks to the others and they nod their heads, and the world’s quietest yes escapes from someone’s mouth. “I didn’t want it to be true. But I was quickly made to see it was the truth and this was what was going to happen whether or not I wanted it to, whether or not I thought it was fair.”

“We are not going to listen to this,” Eric says.

“The message is clear, and we are the messengers, or a mechanism through which the message must pass.”

Leonard breaks the line of the four and steps forward, putting himself between Eric and Andrew. He’s bigger than all the others combined and he’s bigger than the cabin itself; a conflicting, confounding size that only a child could ever equate with innate, implacable gentleness. Wen remembers being held in his arms while Daddy Andrew fought with Redmond. To her shame, she remembers feeling safe.

Wen says, “Please leave us alone, Leonard. Please go away and I’ll still be your friend.”

Leonard blinks hard and rapidly and lets out a percussive, deep breath. He starts talking and as he talks, he doesn’t look at Eric, Andrew, or Wen, despite having moved closer to them and crouching to their level.


If Leonard again insists the four of them are regular, everyday people-as though everyday people have nothing but love in their hearts and are always reasonable and have never committed atrocities in the name of their selfproclaimed everydayness-Andrew is going to scream until he can’t scream anymore. He gets it; of course they are regular people. That message (there are regular people and there are others) is loud, clear, and received to the point where Andrew is beginning to think he may have seen or met each one of them before, with the strongest, nagging don’t-I-know-you? vibe coming from the loathsome Redmond.

Leonard says, “Your family must choose to willingly sacrifice one of your three in order to prevent the apocalypse. After you make what I know is an impossible choice, you must then kill whoever it is you choose. If you fail to make the choice or fail to follow through with the sacrifice, the world will end. The three of you will live but the rest of humanity, seven billion plus, will perish.” Leonard’s mannerless, reading-the-high-school-morningannouncements tone becomes the breathless impassioned entreaty of a zealot. “And you will only live long enough to witness the horror of the end of everything and be left to wander the devastated planet alone, permanently and cosmically alone.”

Andrew anticipated some form of unhinged, hateful, quasifundamentalist-Christian, cult manifesto, but he did not expect this. He is so flummoxed and terrified he has difficulty processing exactly what Leonard is saying, and the implications and permutations of possible future outcomes to be determined in part by what he and Eric say and do next are as irretrievable as the quarks of a smashed atom. Andrew briefly imagines he, Eric, and Wen holding hands and walking through a postapocalyptic landscape, specifically the blasted and burnt ruins of Cambridge and Boston: ash-gray sky, Storrow Drive’s footbridges collapsed onto soottopped cars, steel girders curled like a dead insect’s legs, buildings and brownstones reduced to brick piles of burning rubble, the Charles River black, motionless, and choked with debris. He turns away from the image and away from Leonard, twisting his head as far as it will go, but not enough so that he can see Wen hiding behind his chair. He wants to tell her to cover her ears and ignore Leonard’s poisonous words even though he knows it would be impossible for anyone to do so.

Eric says, “Leonard, you don’t have to do this. You don’t. This, whatever this is, isn’t you. It doesn’t have to be. We haven’t done anything to deserve this.”

Leonard still won’t look directly at Andrew or Eric or Wen. His gaze is somewhere over their heads, on a secret spot of the cabin door, under their chairs, spying a shard of glass on the kitchen linoleum that managed to escape his broom, the yellow lamp lying crookedly on its side. “I agree that you haven’t done anything wrong or bad to deserve this burden. You haven’t. I can’t make that clear enough. Perhaps you are being chosen, like we were chosen, because you’re strong enough to make the decision that needs to be made to stave off the ruination of humanity. I think that’s the way to look at this, Eric.”

Despite the terror of this continuing assault and the pain and discomfort with which Eric clearly suffers, he turns his head and says to Andrew, “That’s thoughtful of them to give us the proper way to look at this.”

Andrew laughs the cynical, mocking one-note plosive of the death row inmate. Waves of love and pride for Eric surge with righteous anger and defiance, yet he knows feeling strong and emboldened isn’t enough to rid his family of the four intruders. It’s not enough to break him free from his chair.

“Please don’t kill us,” Wen whispers from behind Andrew. The quaver in her voice is the worst thing he’s ever heard, without a close second. Andrew renews his struggles against the ropes. His wrists burn as he flexes, twists, and contorts.

Leonard drops to one knee and leans forward, finally making eye contact. “We are not going to kill you, Wen, and we aren’t going to kill your parents. We aren’t. Aside from what we had to do to enter the cabin and get you to listen to what we had to say, we are not going to lay another finger on any of you. That is a promise. We’ll help make you as comfortable as you can be-but you have to stay here in the cabin with us-until you

choose or the allotted time you have to choose runs out.”

“And how long is-“

Leonard speaks over Eric, “Not long, not long at all. Time is running out on the world, on us. Look, we’re not here to hurt you.”

Redmond interrupts with, “If we wanted to hurt you, we would’ve used duct tape instead of rope. Believe me.”

Leonard continues as though Redmond didn’t speak. “You have to understand; we cannot and will not choose who is sacrificed for you and as importantly, we cannot act for you, either. It doesn’t-it won’t work that way. You must choose who is to be sacrificed and you must physically perform the act. Like I said, we are here to make sure the message is heard and understood.”

Redmond says, “Hey, have one of them repeat all this back to you,” and makes circular motions with his right hand.

Sabrina says, “Redmond, just shut up, all right?”

“What. I’m not being a wiseass. Have them prove they heard you, understood you, Leonard. We have to make sure they get what we’re saying here, that we’re serious. This is real, man. We’re not making this shit up. Who would make something like this up?” Redmond talks fast and his Boston accent is clear and authentic unlike the exaggerated one from earlier.

Andrew ping-pongs from wanting to say the magic words that would defuse what’s happening, to being compliant with the hope they’ll leave Wen alone, if not him and Eric, to wanting to ensure the four of them hear and know his mocking, disdain, and hatred for who they are, for who they’re choosing to be. He says, “We have to kill one of us or the world will end. We get it. And we already know our answer.”

Adriane breaks from the line, reaches out, and taps Leonard’s shoulder. “Let them take a minute to, I don’t know, let it all sink in, get over the shock. This is pretty messed up, right?”

“Yeah, okay.” Leonard nods his head, stands up, and backs away until he is between Sabrina and Redmond.

Sabrina steps forward and as she does so, it occurs to Andrew that this is how groups like theirs operate, how they brainwash, how they infect with their virulent, recursive beliefs, how they get what they want. The moment one member stops talking the next steps in to present the same concepts but spun slightly to sound less threatening, the original spiel repackaged inside a more palatable Trojan horse. The second speaker is friendlier than the first, more rational, and so is the third speaker, and the fourth, and the next and the next, and their bolus of ideologies begins to make sense and becomes familiar, becomes an affirmation of what was already there hidden inside your own head.

Sabrina says, “We wish it wasn’t this way, but there’s nothing we can do to change it. I know it all sounds crazy, batshit crazy, but you have to somehow trust us. We’re going to trust you’ll make the right decision, of course.”

Andrew says, “Of course.” He strains to reach out to Wen with his tied hands. His bruised, abraded knuckles and his swollen fingers throb. If he manages to touch her, pinch her shorts or shirt between his fingers, maybe she’ll figure out he wants her to help untie the rope if she can do so without being seen by the others. Andrew brushes the back of his left hand against her. She scoots back and away from him quickly, as though startled. He wiggles his fat and laggard fingers, desperate to somehow communicate untie me. Her hands do not fall upon the ropes or on his wrists.

Leonard looks at his watch again and says, “I’m afraid we don’t have much time before you have to choose. That’s, um, our fault for taking so long to get in here, and then Eric’s unfortunate injury that we did not want or intend to happen, not at all, I swear, and it put us behind where we wanted to be by now. So now we’re running out-“

Andrew lifts his head, shakes the hair out of his eyes, and says, “We’re not choosing anyone. We’re not sacrificing anyone. Not now, not ever.”

Leonard closes his eyes and is otherwise expressionless. Redmond laughs dismissively and folds his arms across his chest. Adriane bows her head and lets her arms fall to her side and dangle limply.

Sabrina clasps her hands together, her eyes widen, and her mouth drops open, dumbfounded, heartbroken. “Even if it means the death of everyone else in the world?”

Andrew wants to believe there’s an opening, a crack, through which he and Eric (it would’ve most certainly been Eric if he hadn’t sustained a concussion) could talk the four out of whatever they have planned after he reiterates their answer to this lunacy is of course no. However, Andrew is not good at mollifying, at saying what people want to hear. He excels at saying what he wants people to hear. That is not the same as telling-it-likeit-is, a folksy descriptor that is spin for being an entitled asshole. It’s more like he tells-it-like-it-should-be backed with an impeccably logical throughline. He has no trouble speaking in front of a lecture hall, from his position of authority and expert, and his students both fear and adore him for it. Department and faculty meetings are trickier for him to navigate without hurting feelings and angering misguided and perhaps well-intended colleagues.

Andrew opts for the unvarnished truth: “Yes. Even if I believed the world was at stake, which I don’t, that’s what it means. I would watch the world die a hundred times over before . . .” and he doesn’t finish because he doesn’t want to finish.

“Christ.” Redmond returns to the couch and picks up his weapon, weighs it in his hands. “Fucking waste of time. They’re never going to choose to do this. I don’t blame ’em. Who would ever choose to-“

“Shut your goddamn mouth!” Adriane increases volume with each syllable. She storms around the room mumbling, “Oh, man. Oh, man, we’re so screwed . . .”

Leonard says her name and reaches for her left elbow.

Adriane slaps him away and rubs her arms like she’s freezing. She pivots, takes two quick steps to Eric, anchors her hands on the chair’s armrests, and sticks her face only inches away from his. “We heard from Andrew. Come on, Eric, what do you say? Huh? You have to believe us.”

Eric winces at her closeness and volume. He shakes his head slowly, side to side, his paper-towel dressing pad a limp white flag.

Wen mumbles, “Leave Daddy alone,” from behind Andrew.

“He’s going to say the same thing I said! Get out of his face!” He shakes the hair out of his eyes. Sitting as tall as he can with his pointed chin held up and out, he dares any one of the four to come as close to him as Adriane is to Eric. If one of them does, he’ll head-butt the person at the bridge of their nose.

Adriane’s panic twitches below her eyes and tugs at the corners of her mouth. “We’re not fucking around. You don’t think we’re not sacrificing anything to be here? We dropped our lives and came all the way out there for this, man. Came out here for you. We had to. Unlike you, we had no choice. You have to believe us. You have to.” She pushes off the armrests and straightens up.

Eric takes a deep breath and says, “We are not choosing anyone, we will never choose anyone. We will not hurt each other or anyone else. I cannot be more clear on that. We cannot be more clear. So that means you’re going to let us go and then you’re going to leave and then-“

Leonard claps his hands once, as loud as a slamming door. “Okay, you need to listen to this part, too. I’ve been shown exactly what will happen if you choose not to make a sacrifice. We’ve all been shown.” He spreads his arms out wide across the cabin.

Adriane bites the back of her knuckles, shrinks away from Eric and off into the kitchen. She circles around her weapon.

“I’ve been made to watch the end, over and over. Since last Monday. It started as a nightmare and whenever I closed my eyes, the end was there, and as we got closer to this day, the visions started happening when I was awake. I couldn’t escape it. I didn’t want to believe it. I thought there might be something wrong with me but the visions were so strong and so specific, so real-” Leonard pauses and wipes his face. “Sabrina, Adriane, and Redmond all saw the same things, too. They saw the exact same things I was seeing. And we were led to each other and we were led here. I don’t think you’re getting that we don’t want to be here, don’t want any of this to happen, but we have no choice. The choice is yours.”

Sabrina stands behind Leonard with her weapon in her hands. Andrew didn’t see when she retrieved it. He tries to get his breathing under control; he cannot let fear totally shut him down. His stiff fingers renew their frantic waving at Wen and stretching toward the knots out of reach. Andrew considers arching his back and pushing off with the balls of his feet until he flips himself and the chair backward to crash to the floor. Maybe the fall would somehow loosen his restraints. The longest of shots, but it might be his only chance.

Andrew shouts to be heard over Leonard. The shouting doesn’t stop Leonard from speaking.

“So you had an apocalyptic nightmare! So what? We’ve all had them


“First the cities will drown. No one living in cities will know it’s coming-“

“That doesn’t mean anything! You know that! You have to know that


“The ocean will swell and rise up into a great fist and pound all the buildings and people into the sand and then drag everything out to sea-“

“There is something wrong with you, all of you, if you believe this-“

“Then a terrible plague will descend and people will writhe with fever and mucus will fill their lungs-“

“This is psychotic, delusional! Did you try to get help? Let us go and we’ll get you help-“

“The skies will fall and crash to the earth like pieces of glass. And then the final, everlasting darkness will descend over humanity and all the species of the earth-“

“You need help! This is fucking insane, all of this-“

“This is going to happen and we’ve been shown that only your sacrifice can stop it-“

“Shown by who? By what? Are you going to answer that?”

Leonard bows his head and doesn’t say anything. Neither does Sabrina, Redmond, or Adriane.

That we-can-talk-them-out-of-this window is closed, if it ever was open.

Eric says, “Come on. Talk to us, tell us more about what you were shown. Who gave you the nightmares? Who told you about us? It doesn’t make sense. Think about it for a second.”

Leonard remains motionless. Sabrina and Redmond briefly make eye contact and then look away; actively and obviously looking anywhere else in the cabin but at each other. Adriane tightens her circle around her weapon. The only sound Andrew hears in the madness of silence is his own labored breathing.

Leonard lifts his head and says, “The choice has been made.”

Redmond and Sabrina walk in front of Leonard, holding their weapons. They step in time, as trained soldiers might. Redmond twists his neck from side to side, the obnoxious tough-guy equivalent of cracking knuckles. Sabrina closes her eyes, inhales, and then adjusts her grip on the wooden staff, the strange curlicued shovel head held like a torch in the darkness.

Eric says, “Wait, stop, you don’t have to do this.” He strains and struggles in his chair, but there isn’t much strength behind his efforts.

“Hey, you don’t need those things. You said you couldn’t hurt us.” Andrew strains to pull his legs free, to peel his arms apart; they feel looser in his restraints but not close to free. He yells names and no and stop and he vibrates in his seat. He pushes up onto his toes, and the tipping point is close; one twitchy push-off and he’ll fall over backward.

From behind him Adriane puts a hand on his shoulder and anchors him and the chair flush to the floor without any struggle at all. One hand and that’s all the pressure needed to keep him pinned to where he is, no matter how much thrashing he does. He throws his head back, trying to hit her but he doesn’t make contact.

Her hand leaves his shoulder and Wen screams, “Leave me alone!”

Andrew yells for Wen and twists to see where Adriane went, to see what she’s doing. Legs suddenly appear in front of Andrew’s face, kicking and waving as though attempting to swim up from a great depth. Adriane is lowering his daughter onto his lap.

“Don’t touch her! Let her go!”

Wen twists free and hugs Andrew tightly around the neck. Her cheek is hot and wet against his. He says her name repeatedly and whispers into her ear that she has to leave, to run, to push the screen slider out and run onto the deck and run and run.

Redmond loudly bangs the sledgehammer end of his double-ended staff on the floor. Then he gives Leonard the weapon without an exchange of words. Their movements are choreographed, ritualized. Leonard flips the ends of the staff so that the arrangement of shovel and trowel blades is pointed at the floor.

Redmond scratches the back of his head and fidgets with his empty hands. He kneels on the hardwood floor, making a triangle with Eric and Andrew.

He says, “Aw, fuck. Okay. Come on, come on, here we go,” and claps his hands, wipes his face, laughs once, shakes his head, and grunts like a weight lifter gearing up for an inhuman feat of strength.

Andrew isn’t whispering anymore. “Run, Wen, run!”

Wen shakes her head and says, “I can’t.”

Redmond abruptly quits his routine, stops moving, and stares at Andrew with his head tilted.

Andrew maneuvers his face around Wen’s head so he can see this, whatever it is.

Redmond’s face has drained of color, and sweat darkens his receding hairline. He licks his cracked, bleeding lips and blinks rapidly. He’s scared and it makes him look younger. He could be one of Andrew’s students, hundreds or thousands of miles from home, in his office to plead for an extension on a paper or for a better grade in the class to ensure he doesn’t lose his performance-based grant money.

Redmond reaches into the front pocket of his jeans and pulls out something white. It practically glows as he unfolds it in front of his red shirt. Larger than the dressing on the back of Eric’s head, it appears to be a swatch of thin cloth, ribbed or waffled like thermal underwear. He lifts it high over his head, stretching and extending his arms as far up as they will go.

Redmond winks at Andrew and grins, the kind that makes any face ugly. Andrew has been the recipient of this version of the smug, judgmental, nonverbal fuck you countless times, and it nags at him that perhaps he’s seen this smile on this particular face before today.

Eric says, “Please God, just let us go, let us go,” in a continuous loop. Wen has stopped crying. “What is that? What is he doing?” Andrew tells her not to watch.

Redmond pulls and stretches the material over his head, face, and halfway down his neck. It’s formfitting, like a sock over a foot. The lump of his nose protrudes below his prominent brow and from between the uncanny valleys of his concave eye sockets. A star of red blooms in the cloth over his split lip. He drops his arms to his sides.

The sun breaks through the clouds, a promise that will one day be broken, and shines into the cabin via the deck, illuminating this reluctant summit. The players are momentarily as still as stone obelisks and their ancient shadows.

Although Redmond’s face is concealed within the blank, white mask, Andrew feels the man’s stare, and like all stares, it accrues mass with passing time.

Then, finally, there are two words.

“Thank you.”


Eric’s litany of please-Gods cuts out and he shrinks from the return of the sun like a vampire. His head is one of the old hot water radiators from their condo and it hisses with pain.

Redmond in the supplicant’s eternal pose, awash in golden light, is transformed. The red of his shirt is no longer confined to the cloth and slicks into the air like oil in water. Red mists beyond the boundary of Redmond, forming an aura, as amorphous as a storm. There’s a darker spot of red clinging stubbornly to his white mask, a different kind of promise; all will be red eventually.

Redmond says, “Thank you.”

Sabrina, Leonard, and Adriane drift into the center of the cabin, creeping delicately, hunters stalking elusive, skittish prey. They form a half circle around Redmond, their gnarly, improvised staffs aloft.

Something shimmers in the nowhere between Redmond and the doorway to the deck. Like heat waves on summer-baked pavement, the shimmer is whiter and brighter than the surrounding solar light. Eric blinks and the strange refraction realigns, finds a focus, coalesces into a shape, a form, and for the briefest of moments there is an unmistakable contour of a head and shoulders, an outline of another person, a fourth (or another fourth) joining the semicircle encompassing Redmond.

Leonard and Adriane swap positions. They walk between Redmond and the deck, passing through that nowhere space, eclipsing the vision, wiping it out. It’s gone, whatever it is, made of empty space and the whitest light. Eric does not think he saw another person coming in from outside, some secret member of their group, hiding and waiting until the right time to enter the cabin. The vision’s near instant appearance and disappearance only amplifies the wrongness and unearthliness, filling Eric’s head with the snow and crackle of a lost signal’s static. He realizes what he saw is most certainly the result of his injury and misfiring synapses. Still, he’s afraid to inspect too closely the memory of the experience; more than an instinctual fear of the inexplicable that cannot be verbalized, it’s the bone-deep dread of discovery. What if the shimmer and its light did not come from his scrambled brain and was not a trick of the sun?

That question is followed by another that bubbles up and does not present in his typical inner voice or manner. An ever-evolving mental life is impossible to fully detail, even by the owner, and one generally goes from day to day unquestioning one’s own being or consciousness, with absolute faith in this is who I am and this is how I think. The follow-up question does not fit within Eric’s secret mental code, does not use the unique parts of speech of his interior language; it is not of him. To Eric’s horror, the question feels like an intrusion from a different mind or a terrifying answer to an unspoken prayer.

What if the shimmer’s light came from the colder spaces of the infinite sky?


Nothing that has happened to this point is as scary or creepy as the kneeling and masked Redmond. The outline and contours of his hidden face fill her with the same mix of fascination and dread she felt when she stared at the human skull that was in her classroom. What if the mask is Redmond’s new skin and underneath there is only the whiter white of bone? She imagines his face and head changing shape while hidden away and then Leonard ripping off the mask like a magician to reveal a grotesque, ravenous monster, the kind so terrible and ugly that just looking at it will kill you.

Redmond says, “Thank you.” His puppet mouth opens and closes out of rhythm with the words, an amateur attempt at ventriloquism. The cloth through which he speaks is thin, but his voice sounds garbled, modulated. He shouldn’t sound like he does. Wen covers her ears because she does not want to hear anything else he might say.

Adriane appears from behind Andrew’s chair, floating like a patient ghost, and flanks Redmond’s left side. The bramble of raking claws at the end of Adriane’s weapon passes over her and Andrew’s heads, close enough so Wen can count the tangles of claws and their individual sharpened points plaqued with rust and dirt. Adriane’s face is blank; her facial muscles are rigid scaffolding for her skin.

Leonard stands behind Redmond, as stoic and still as a brick wall. Wen stares at Leonard, wanting and waiting for him to look at her. Despite everything, she hopes Leonard will show himself to be a good person, the person she thought he was when they were out in the front yard together. She considers waving at him but decides against trying to get his attention. He has the same blank, robot face Adriane has. Sabrina has the robot face, too. She drifts within arm’s reach of Eric and settles to Redmond’s right.

Wen darts her eyes around the room, memorizing everyone’s position, where they stand and how they hold their staffs. She turns her head and twists her torso, almost falling off Andrew’s lap. Poor Daddy Eric is alone. He alternates between being wide-eyed and squeezing his eyelids shut, exaggerated blinks like he has something stuck in his eyes and it won’t go away. It appears he’s looking above Redmond (not at him) and into the kitchen or out toward the deck. Wen looks out there, too, and then past the deck to the shimmering blue lake, which is a million miles away.

Wen sinks deeper into Daddy Andrew’s lap and deeper inside herself. Should she go to Daddy Eric? Maybe walking over and simply kissing the back of his head will make him better. Then she’ll talk to him and no one else, shake him if she has to, and tell him she can help if he would just tell her what to do. What are they going to do?

Maybe she should run like Daddy Andrew said, sprint through the room, dodge the turned-over furniture like a mouse through high grass, then onto the deck and outside and away. She can run fast. Her dads tell her that she is fast, so fast, all the time. And they tell her she is shifty. She knows their races are fixed for her to win, but Wen outlasting the catchers in their catch-me-if-you-can games until Eric and/or Andrew are bent over, hands on knees, gasping for air is legitimate. She is shifty. Wen loves that word. It means hard to catch. It means even better than fast; it’s a smart fast.

Leonard and Adriane exchange positions: Adriane is stationed in front of the couch and directly behind Redmond; Leonard is now closer to the kitchen and parked to Redmond’s left. The room is bright and quiet but for Andrew’s heavy breathing. Wen rocks and tilts side to side with his expanding and then collapsing chest.

She knows she’d make it out of the cabin without getting caught if she was to run, but where would she run to? She doesn’t want to accidentally get lost on the dirt roads that fork and branch away leading to nowhere or to worse places than here, and what if she has to ditch the road for the thick woods surrounding the cabin for miles and miles? Her dads were explicit in saying she could not go into these woods by herself under any circumstances because they might never find her again.

She blurts out, “Go away, all of you! And take off the mask and stop trying to scare us!” No one responds. None of the four, including the masked Redmond, look at her. Wen is terrified but she puts on her own mask, an angry face, the angriest one she has so that hers is not as blank and lifeless as the four others’ faces.

She shifts her hips and slides her left leg off Andrew’s lap. Her foot hovers a few inches above the floor as a brief test. No one moves to grab her, no one moves at all. She slides down farther until the toe of her sneaker kisses the hardwood. She waits. If no one notices, if no one says anything, she is going to run between Redmond and Leonard and then onto the deck. In her head, she is down the back stairs and running on the dirt road already, with long and shifty strides.

In one motion, Adriane lunges forward and swings her weapon. The raking claws whistle through the air.


Even as Leonard and Adriane exchange positions in the common room, Andrew remains focused on and obsessed with Redmond: Why is he so familiar and why is he wearing that freak show of a mask and what can he see through it and why did he say, “Thank you,” and why did he say it the way he said it-low, guttural, breathless, not angry but groveling and as fervent as an ecstatic?

Wen says, “Go away, all of you! And take off the mask and stop trying to scare us!” She no longer has her arms wrapped around Andrew’s neck and she is not burrowed into his chest. Her weight is unbalanced on his lap. He tempers his efforts at pulling his legs and hands free from the ropes and chair for fear he’ll jostle her and she’ll fall awkwardly to the floor and get hurt.

She slowly leaks off his lap, to his left, and there’s nothing he can do to readjust her position. He’s about to say her name to jolt her into readjusting herself and staying put when it occurs to him that her sliding off is purposeful, and perhaps she’s getting ready to make a run for it like he told her to. She methodically stretches toward the floor with one leg and he’s now convinced she’s considering a mad dash outside the cabin and beyond. He silently pleads with her to go now and it’s all he can do to not say go out loud. She might not get another chance. If she does run, then one or two of them will go after her and that would buy him some time to work on loosening his restraints. Careful to not give away inadvertently an escape route by staring it down, Andrew surveys potential paths through the common room and possible roadblocks to the deck for Wen.

Andrew hears the movement first, a quick shuffle of feet coming from Redmond’s direction. Andrew assumes the noise is Redmond scrambling onto his feet, but he has not moved. Redmond is still kneeling on the floor, his spine straight and masked head held high. Then there’s a loud stomp on the floor behind Redmond. Adriane’s right foot is forward, planted only inches behind Redmond’s feet. Her hips pivot and she swings her staff. The sphere of raking claws comets through the air and the rusted metal crashes into the right side of Redmond’s face.

He sways with the impact, but he recovers and straightens again and remains kneeling and upright. A slight but visible shiver ripples throughout his body. A high-pitched, animal whimper escapes from under his mask.

At the same time as the impact of the blow, Eric exhales a loud grunt, as though he is the one who is struck. Wen completes her slide off his lap and is standing next to Andrew and the chair. She turns so she is facing the front door and wraps her arms around Andrew’s neck again. She doesn’t scream or cry. Her mouth is next to his ear and her breathing is off rhythm, exhaling too soon after a sharp inhale, and then too long a pause between breaths, and after the pause, air rushes out like she’s deflating.

Raking claw tips are caught, stuck in Redmond’s mask and face. Adriane pulls on the handle of her weapon as though working an ax out from a deep gash in a tree. The white mask stretches, stubbornly hooked on one of the claws. The right side of Redmond’s head turns as bright red as his shirt.

From Redmond’s right, Sabrina crow-hops forward and swings her staff in a horizontal arc, the tapered and oddly curled shovel blade held sideways so as to be more bladelike. She’s close enough to Andrew that he feels the whoosh of parting air. The thin edge of metal mashes into the front of Redmond’s face, in the area of his nose and mouth, and there’s a clang and scraping noise. Redmond collapses onto his side and loosens a wail, a liquid scream.

Adriane and Sabrina shower blow after blow upon Redmond. The abstract metal shapes at the ends of their handles rise and then strike downward like greedy bird heads. The women grunt with each swing and retrieval of their weapons. The metal configurations of the weapons chime and reverberate with contact, singing joyfully now that they are finally being used as their retrofitters intended. There are also hollow thuds and other sounds that are wet and wooden.

Redmond’s guttural screams and squeals weaken and become less recognizably human. Wen’s shallow, ragged breathing are Andrew’s own breaths, if he is in fact breathing at all.

Redmond’s mask remains in place despite the assault. Small puncture holes, black with blood, acne the white cloth, the whole of which has turned pink and red. The contents inside the mask have lost their original shape; the borders of his face and skull rupture and are amorphous.

His arms never once rise above his chest and shoulders to shield his head. His hands hang down to the tops of his thighs, and they flop and twitch as if attempting to break off and flee. His legs kick out and spasm, his shoes knocking a desperate SOS against the floor.

Leonard circles behind Redmond, maneuvering between Adriane and Sabrina, mindful of their backswings. He waits and watches, politely waiting for a turn. He widens the distance between his hands on the weapon’s thick handle. A stress crack, a fault line in the wood, runs down the length of what was once a sun-bleached boat oar. He lifts the sledgehammer end into the dusty sunbeam above them all. He yells and powers the hammer down in a looping, accelerating trajectory, splitting the space between Adriane and Sabrina.

There’s a tree-snapping-and-falling crack and crunch. Redmond’s sternum and rib cage collapse under the weight and force of the anvil-sized block of metal, which punches clear through to the spine. The violence of the impact vibration radiates across the floor and up the frame of Andrew’s chair. A plume of red sprays the rope and Andrew’s bare legs below the knee. The blood is warm on his skin. Red graffitis the jeans and white and off-white shirts of Sabrina and Leonard. Redmond’s limbs cease fluttering. The fingers of his open, pleading hands close into his palms.

Leonard retracts the sledgehammer and stumbles backward until he knocks into the couch. A crater in the middle of Redmond’s chest fills with blood and it has an absurd depth, perhaps stretching beyond the floor and into the basement. More blood pools beneath his body and flows away, dowsing the cracks and grain of the hardwood floor. That his red shirt somehow remains fully buttoned and tucked into his jeans seems mocking and cruel. Jagged spears of bone peek through two of the gaps in the shirt between buttons.

Wen hasn’t moved from her spot next to Andrew and still faces away from the carnage. Her odd breathing hasn’t changed though she mixes in a nearly inaudible high-pitched moan or wheeze, like her throat and lungs are clogged. Her eyelashes brush against Andrew’s ear when she blinks.

He whispers, “I love you, Wen. Don’t look. Don’t turn around, okay?”

Leonard drops the weapon, and it clatters heavily on the floor. He coughs through his closed mouth, puffing out his cheeks. He steps left, hesitates, and then steps back to the right, apparently unsure of where to go or what to do, until darting into the kitchen and throwing up into the sink. He turns the water on full blast, trying to drown out his puking.

Adriane’s face is blank, but it’s a different kind of blank. She still has her weapon raised. The ends of the raking claws drip thick, syrupy blood.

Color rushes into Sabrina’s shocked face, making her cheeks ruddy, almost purple. She twists and tosses her weapon against the woodburning stove. With her back to Andrew and the others, she folds her hands behind her neck, shakes her head, and talks to herself. Andrew can’t hear what she says.

Eric is slumped in his chair, eyes vacant and staring out to the deck and beyond. Andrew considers calling out his name and asking if he’s okay. By the look of him, eyes glassy and in a half squint, Eric might be better off being lost and hiding inside his own head.

Andrew needs to regroup and focus on escaping from the chair. The ropes wrapped around his legs and wrists feel like they’ve tightened instead of loosening during his struggles.

Leonard returns from the kitchen and stands at the head of Redmond’s body. He wipes his mouth on his sleeve. “Adriane, can you help out here?” He sways, unsteady on his feet. The cabin is a boat pitching in rough seas.

Adriane doesn’t answer and blankly stares at Redmond’s corpse.

“Adriane? Hey, Adriane?”

She moves and talks in slow motion. “Hey, yeah. What? I’m still here.”

“Help me take Redmond outside.”

Adriane gently places her weapon on the floor behind her, only a step from the bathroom doorway.

Leonard bends by Redmond’s head and reaches out to dig his arms underneath the man’s shoulders. Instead he straightens and walks around the body to Redmond’s feet. He is only inches away from Andrew.

Andrew whispers, “Shhh,” to Wen even though she isn’t saying anything. He holds his breath, afraid that any sound or movement could trigger another frenzy of violence.

Leonard says, “I’m going to, um, pull him outside, onto the deck there. Grab a bedspread or something so we can cover him up. And can you open the screen for me? Maybe pull that chair and end table out of the way, too?”

Adriane whispers what Andrew thinks is, “This is all so fucked.” She slides the little end table deeper into the kitchen, the wooden legs complaining as they are dragged over the linoleum. She stands up the small lamp, straightening the yellow lampshade, and turns the switch on and off, two, three, four times, and more. The little clicks don’t result in any light.


“Yeah, sorry.” She lifts back one of the remaining kitchen chairs and drops it in front of the refrigerator. Then she runs across the room into a bedroom and comes back out with a quilted and light-and-dark-bluecheckered bedspread, large enough to cover a wheat field. With the bedspread folded under her arm, Adriane kicks aside the balled-up curtain and slides open the screen to the deck, careful to keep it in the track.

Leonard says, “You might have to take it off. I need as much space as you can give me to get through.”

As Adriane walks onto the deck with the screen slider held out in front of her like a shield, Leonard picks up Redmond’s feet. He tries tucking a leg under each of his arms, but it’s an awkward hold, and the legs drop out and hit the floor with a wet splat. The earthy and iron-tinted smell of blood and piss intensifies with the disturbance of the body, as though the legs are bellows pumping out tainted air. Leonard grabs fistfuls of Redmond’s jeans cuffed around the ankle. With the legs reelevated, the smell further intensifies, and he whispers, “Oh, God,” and breathes loudly through his mouth. He spins the body one hundred and eighty degrees so that the feet point to the deck. Leonard pauses and dry heaves once, dropping one leg to cover his mouth with the back of his hand. He says, “I’m okay, I got it,” and he grabs the leg again, continuing to talk to himself throughout the whole process. He pedals backward hastily, dragging the body behind him, leaving a smeared trail of blood on the floor. Redmond’s masked head wobbles and shakes like an overfilled water balloon.

Sabrina jogs into the bathroom and comes back out with an armload of towels. She sets the stack down on the floor to Andrew’s right and spreads two towels (one is brown, the other a fraying and tattered Harry Potter towel featuring the cover of the first novel) over the blood on the floor. She stirs the towels around with her feet, halfheartedly mopping up the mess.

Leonard is on the deck and paused with Redmond’s body half in and half out of the cabin. Hunched over, Leonard says, “Watch out,” to Adriane. He lunges backward and the body goes with him, passing over the glass slider’s metal tracking in the doorway and thunking down onto the deck. The wooden planks knock and echo with the body-relocation effort until Leonard parks Redmond up against the banister railing opposite the doorway and past the picnic table; the body is not out of sight from the interior of the cabin. Leonard inspects his hands and his red-smeared shirt and pants, and then looks at his watch twice. The first peek is autonomic, a reflex. The second look lasts longer and is a conscious attempt at determining the time. It occurs to Andrew that Leonard has been obsessively checking his watch ever since the four of them entered the cabin.

Adriane covers the body with the blue blanket, tugging and pulling the corners over Redmond’s legs. The blanket tents over his feet and its extra length pools over his head and against the railing. Picking the screen slider back up (which has seen better days; the wire mesh is misshapen and sags near the corners of the warped frame), she speaks and gestures with motions of her head at the body and then inside the cabin.

Leonard says something and he, too, points inside the cabin, and then he turns and walks away from both Adriane and the body. He pauses and says, “I don’t want to look at him, either.” As he ducks into the kitchen the sunlight dies. How quickly it becomes dark inside the cabin alarms Andrew, and he can’t help but imagine the light inside and outside continuing to dim until there is no light at all.


Leonard stands in the same area of the common room where Eric saw whatever it was he thought he saw in the moments before the attack on Redmond: an amorphous image hovering in the air, a bas-relief made of light and outlined in more jagged light, which became a head and shoulders, then a full figure in a swirl of glint and glare. He wants to dismiss it as an illusion, a result or symptom of his injury, but in his memory, the figure animates before disappearing; it turns inexorably to face him.

Did Andrew or Wen or any of the others see the figure, too? No one reacted like they did.

To Eric’s right, Andrew shivers like he is freezing. Wen stands on Andrew’s left, arms around his neck. She is in profile to Eric, facing the front door. Her eyes are open and they don’t blink often enough. Did Wen watch the death of Redmond? Eric can’t remember if she was looking when Adriane first swung her weapon. Had she turned away before that? He thinks so but he can’t be sure. Did she see the figure made of light? Is she seeing it now in front of the door and staring back at her?

“I’m truly sorry that had to happen and that you had to see it.” Leonard’s voice wavers and has active fault lines. He stares at his hands, opens them and closes them. “But we had no choice. We have no choice.” His apparent sincerity, or his sincere belief in his own words, is appalling and frightening. Eric believes for the first time that they will never leave this cabin alive and prays silently.

When there is no response to his apology and explanation, Leonard slumps and shuffles to the couch. He paws around the cushions and finds the remote control. He turns on the television and Wen’s Steven Universe winks back on, filling the black screen on the wall. Eric recognizes the episode as having seen it before, but he does not remember what is going to happen next or later. Is it an episode he watched previously this summer or is it the same episode that was on earlier, before Leonard turned off the TV? Had everything happened in fifteen minutes? Ten minutes? Less? Eric doesn’t know.

He doesn’t know what time it is or how long the four have been inside the cabin and he can’t remember when or how he was tied to his chair. He fears that he is forgetting other stuff, too, the most important stuff. Because of the concussion, he is also exhausted and is having trouble keeping his head up and eyes open.

With her show back on, Wen turns around. She stands unnaturally straight and wooden, her body devoid of the kinetic energy with which she normally emanates. Her thumbs are again inside her fists and held against her mouth.

Andrew says, “Wen, don’t look outside.”

Wen shakes her head no. Eric isn’t sure if the no is defiance or an agreement or a meaningless automatic response.

Sabrina carries the kitchen trash bin to the middle of the floor. She wipes her hands on her jeans as though her hands have already handled the towels and are covered in blood. She bends and lifts the sludgy, bloodsoaked towels off the floor, and drops them heavily into the bin and two black flies spin into the air like whorls of smoke.

With Redmond’s body outdoors and now the towels disposed of, the smell in the room improves enough that inhaling through his nose doesn’t totally flip his stomach. The floor is still slick with blood; it’ll never be clean again. Previously invisible gouges in the wood are angry slashes, scars that won’t heal. Floorboards are tinted red in a trail leading to the deck. Taking the two remaining towels from the stack she brought out of the bathroom, Sabrina spreads them over the floor, end to end. She doesn’t mop or push the towels around; they’re left to be rugs. Then she covers the towels with the slider curtain. The flies briefly crawl on the curtain and then flit away disappointed.

Leonard says, “I’m sorry, Wen, but I’m going to change the channel, okay? Just for a little bit, and then I’ll put it back. I promise. You’re doing so good, you know that? So brave. Your parents must be so proud.”

Andrew says, “Go fuck yourself.” His voice goes from child-who-can’tfind-his-parents to full-on righteously angry Andrew in the span of three words.

Leonard holds the remote close to his face, his hands trembling. He pauses the show with Steven Universe smiling, his plump fist raised triumphantly above his head.

Eric looks outside at the shaded deck, and the covered body against the railing. A strong breeze ripples through the folds and edges of the checkered blue cloth. That charmingly homey and homely bedspread was half of an apartment-warming gift from his parents when he and Andrew moved in together more than fifteen years ago. The other half of the apartment-warming gift wasn’t quite as charming: a golden framed placard that read, “God bless this home and all who enter,” writ in a looping gothic script above prayer hands pressed together. Eric couldn’t decide if the framed blessing was a rider, a parental compromise between no-gift and gift. Eric wasn’t opposed to the blessing’s sentiment (as tacky as its presentation was) but Andrew ranted like only the deeply offended could. He and Andrew tossed the placard and repurposed the frame. Eric insisted on keeping and using the bedspread for their guest room should his parents visit and stay over. Mom and Dad never set foot in their first apartment. They made their maiden visit to Cambridge and the condo shortly after they adopted Wen, and in the years since, they have visited four more times. For those keeping score, Andrew’s parents drive down from Vermont to visit once every two months. Eric keeps score. His mom and dad have yet to sleep in the condo’s guest room and have instead stayed in a hotel, insisting they didn’t want to be a bother, didn’t want to get in the way. Mom said it so warmly and with such regret, Eric believed it to be true. While Mom acted as spokesperson, Dad would break off eye contact, slump his shoulders, and drop his head like a scolded dog only now reminded of a bad deed, but one he doesn’t regret. It was like watching Dad-this graying and diminishing version of the man who was once as big and strong as Paul Bunyan-remember he wasn’t supposed to be enjoying himself in their company as much as he was. Andrew once asked Eric what he was thinking as he stood at the bay window while his parents left the building and ducked into an idling cab two stories below. Eric said, “I’m happy and proud they’re here.” He paused and Andrew hugged him from behind. “And I’m sad. Infinitely sad.”

Eric lifts his drooped head and swims up from the warm waters of reverie. Did he fall asleep or pass out, and for how long was he out? He looks around the cabin nervously, and everyone seems to be in the same place they were moments before. He blurts out, “Let’s stop this now, right? We can get you help. We can. I promise. Let us go and we can get you help. Nothing more has to happen. It can end now. You can end it now.” Eric sighs at himself. He doesn’t mean it the way it might sound to them; he shouldn’t be using the words end it now.

Leonard impatiently shakes his head, brushing Eric off. He looks at his wristwatch and says, “Please watch the TV. It’ll be on soon.”

The screen blips over to a cable news network. It’s some midafternoon business talking-head kind of show according to the guide bar at the bottom of the screen. Instead of news, a supplemental health coverage commercial for seniors is being broadcast. The pitch comes from a onetime famous actress who speaks plaintively into the camera.

Andrew asks, “What will be on soon?”

“What you need to see.”

“Is it your favorite show? You just can’t miss it, right? I’ve seen you check your watch every five minutes since you broke into our cabin. Well, it must be a great show. I know I can’t wait. What’s it rated? We don’t let Wen just watch anything, you know. Maybe you should’ve set the DVR.”

Andrew is pushing too hard and gearing up to push harder. Eric says, “Okay, okay, easy, Andrew.” Eric appreciates that Andrew hasn’t shut down and isn’t giving up talking them out of this, but Christ, they bludgeoned one of their own to death, an act that is as confounding as it is horrifying. What is clear to Eric is the level of violence to which they’ve committed will not be verbally wiseassed away. Perhaps Andrew senses a weakening or flagging of their will to see whatever this is through given how obviously shaken they are in the aftermath of Redmond’s ritualized attack and death. Eric doesn’t see it. He sees zealots, fully engaged with their cause. Further, their squeamishness likely means it’ll be easier for them to abdicate any sense of personal responsibility and continue to attribute their actions to the as-of-yet unattributed source of their professed apocalyptic visions and murderous commands.

Unbidden and unwanted, questions from a corner in a forgotten chamber inside Eric’s head: Did they see the same figure of light I saw?

Have they seen it before they came here to us? Did they see it when they closed their eyes, when they dreamed their Armageddon dreams?

Two more commercials run. One is for a cleaning product that cannot be purchased in stores, and the other is a seizure-inducing promo for the network’s prime-time political round table. Everyone in the cabin remains quiet throughout the inanity of shouted slogans and loud exclamations as though this is their very own sponsored intermission. The news program returns with a blizzard of garish color that hurts Eric’s head. The infinite news ticker at the bottom of the screen scrolls by with blurry data blips about refugees, unemployment, the death of a beloved celebrity, and the Dow Jones average being down. BREAKING NEWS in large red font bullies the main screen, overlaying the red-white-and-blue-adorned newsroom. A finely pressed newscaster in a finely pressed suit stands in the lower right corner of the screen. He gravely welcomes everyone back for their continuing coverage of a 7.9-magnitude earthquake centered in the Aleutian Islands, which struck more than four hours ago.

The Aleutians are a chain of volcanic islands stretching across the Bering Sea, with some of the islands belonging to both Alaska and, at its western extremes, Russia. Eric and Andrew researched booking an Alaskan cruise that would navigate by some of the larger islands but they gave up when the opportunity to adopt a child materialized quicker than they’d planned.

The U.S. National Tsunami Warning Center has issued a cautionary advisory to British Columbia, Canada, and over one thousand miles of coast along the American Pacific Northwest including the cities of Seattle and Portland. However, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued its strongest warning to the islands of Hawaii. Residents and tourists on the north-facing coastlines are under a mandatory evacuation order and are to seek higher ground immediately.

Andrew says, “Is this what we’re supposed to see?” “It is. You don’t get it yet?

“No. I don’t.”

“I explained to all of you that if you didn’t choose to make a sacrifice, the oceans will rise and cities will drown. I used those exact words: the cities will drown.” Leonard slowly and loudly enunciates and points at the television. His patient tone and calm demeanor he employs whenever addressing Andrew, Wen, or Eric cracks and anger oozes out. Or is it panic?

It’s difficult to tell the difference. “You remember me telling you that, right? You said you understood what I was telling you.”

Eric vaguely recalls Leonard saying something about drowning cities along with a list of other threats, but he doesn’t remember them.

Andrew says, “Yes, I remember, but this doesn’t mean anything, this-“

“No! No more.” He points the remote control at Andrew. “I’ve been very patient with you but now you have to watch and listen.” Leonard closes his eyes, shakes his head, and shrugs his shoulders as if to say I’m trying my best to make everything go smoothly. He points at the TV again.

“I shouldn’t yell, I know you’re scared of me, of us, but please. Watch.”

The network cuts to an interviewer and interviewee digitally separated on the screen. The woman on the right is a spokesperson for the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. She explains that there are nearly two dozen tsunami detection buoys in the Northern Pacific, with a cluster tracing the perimeter of the northern Ring of Fire, which is only a hundred miles or so from the epicenter of this earthquake. The data they’ve received points to a sizable wave of fifteen to twenty feet in height headed south toward the Hawaiian islands. The newscaster cuts in to announce that a tsunami has made landfall. As the audio of the interview continues, its video is banished to the lower right corner. A feed from a beach resort on the Hawaiian island of Kauai fills the center of the screen. It’s unclear if this is live or taped. In Hawaii it’s a bright, beautiful day. Small tufts of clouds are afterthoughts in the wide sky. The sand is golden and the palm leaves are green. The hotel pool is crystal blue and empty. The resort has already been evacuated. A swell of water gray with foam and sand, speckled with dark soil, palm fronds, and other debris, rushes up the length of the beach, overwhelms the pool and courtyard, swallowing chairs and tables, pushing into cabanas and the hotel’s lower-level rooms. The channel cuts to other videos from smaller towns and from the less-traveled and populated Northwestern or Leeward Islands; the greedy waves capsize small boats, swamp marinas, wipe out decks and docks, and wash out seaside roads.

While acknowledging beach erosion and the damage to property will be extensive, the spokesperson talks about the success of their early warning detection system as they had plenty of lead time to evacuate the coasts and low-lying areas of the affected Hawaiian islands. It’s early but no injuries or fatalities have been reported.

Andrew says, “Hey-“

Eric interrupts with, “Don’t. Just don’t,” because he knows what Andrew wants to say, is going to say.

Andrew grits his teeth, shakes the hair out of his eyes, and says it, anyway. “This is some doomsday you have going there. So how about you let us go now?”

Leonard doesn’t respond.

“Let Eric and Wen go, at least. I’ll stay and we can discuss apocalyptic themes and cultural traumas of the twenty-first century all you want. Just let them go.”

Adriane hurries into the bathroom, shuts the door, and turns the sink on full blast. There are lower sounds buried under the rush of water. Eric can’t tell if she’s crying and/or talking to herself.

Sabrina says, “I don’t understand. This isn’t-” She stops in midsentence, walks over to Leonard’s side of the room, and taps his arm.


“I know, but keep watching. We’re supposed to keep watching.”

Eric says, “How long?”

“Until we see what we’re supposed to see. Until we see what was shown to us.” Leonard sounds unsure, even desperate. He chances a quick look at Eric and then Andrew before intently staring at the TV again, willing it to play the images in his head, whatever they are.

The station replays the flooding of the resort, which is the most dramatic footage to have aired. The talking heads repeat the same numbers and timelines. Eric is about to ask if they can change the channel back to a show for Wen when there’s a rough cut away from the various Hawaiian video feeds to the lead broadcaster. He doesn’t say anything and has a finger in his ear. He doesn’t know he’s on-air. He recovers and announces that a second massive earthquake has struck in the Pacific, registering at 8.6 on the Richter scale. The epicenter is only seventy miles off the coast of Oregon in what’s called the Cascadia Subduction Zone, an area scientists have long feared would produce a catastrophic earthquake.

Leonard shouts, “This is it! This is it!” He turns and for a moment he has an I-got-exactly-what-I-wanted-for-my-birthday smile on his face, which quickly landslides into the pained look of a reluctant witness. “You didn’t stop it from happening and you could’ve. You were supposed to make a sacrifice. When you didn’t, we were forced to make one for you, and now, the consequences. You could’ve stopped this-“

Sabrina is standing and facing the TV. She says, “No, no, no . . .”

Adriane explodes out of the bathroom, her face red and dripping wet.

“It’s happening? Is it really fucking happening? Oh, Jesus God . . .”

Leonard continues talking to Eric, Andrew, and Wen, but he watches the screen. His eyes shimmer with tears. He says, “I’m sorry, that’s not fair of me. Of course I mean to say we, not you. We could’ve stopped it but we didn’t. We failed. We are in this together. All of us. I’m sorry. This is hard, this is impossible; I keep saying that but it’s true. And we didn’t stop this.

We’re too late.”

Sabrina, Adriane, and Leonard talk and they ask questions; some are rhetorical and some are impossible to answer. They share reactions, looks, and nods of support, nonverbal confirmation that what is happening on the rectangular, one-inch-thick screen is real. Eric strains to block them out and hear what is being said on the news but the cabin is all shouts and exclamations, everything muddying in the echo chamber of his throbbing head.

The room pauses to take a collective breath long enough for one of the seismologists to posit the earthquake in the Aleutian Islands triggered this second quake, which lasted for almost five minutes. Given the proximity of the epicenter, people along the coast will only have minutes to seek higher ground before a tsunami reaches shore. Given the size and duration of the quake, damaged infrastructure and buildings will make it difficult to impossible in some low-lying areas for any sort of mass evacuation to occur in time. Another scientist estimates a tsunami triggered by a quake of this magnitude and proximity to shore as being anywhere from twenty to fifty feet tall, and the wave would be kilometers long so that the initial and sudden surge in sea level would continue for the entire length and duration of that wave, pushing all that water inland. She suggests residents immediately seek areas that are eighty to one hundred feet above sea level; the fifty-foot-tall bluffs along the coastline likely won’t be a safe enough height.

The lead newscaster interrupts the split-screen discussion, announcing a tsunami has indeed struck the Oregon shoreline and they have video footage from Cannon Beach. He warns the images they are about to show are disturbing.

The video plays; a shaky, handheld wide shot of the beach, which is dotted with large rocks jutting out like shark fins from its flat sand and shallow low-tide water. The rocks are as black as shadow, giving them an uncanny, otherworldly feel, like looking at frozen pieces of space-time. One rock dwarfs the others, looming in the center of the shot, big enough to be its own mountain, big enough that it should sink through the sand and to the center of the earth.

Adriane says, “Shit, that’s The Goonies rock! Remember that movie?” She smiles widely and stares at Eric and Andrew, apparently waiting for some sort of response or validation from them. “Come on, you’ve all seen that movie, yeah? The kid solves a clue with that big fucking rock or the rocks around it.”

“It’s called Haystack Rock,” Sabrina says. “Almost two hundred fifty feet tall. I was there last summer. My best friend from college lives in Portland. It’s a beautiful spot.”

A blast of wind crackles through the speakers. There are people still on the beach, some of them a great distance away and some at the rocks and the eerily receded water. They are small digital avatars of actual people, blips of bathing suit colors on blurry legs. A guy off-camera, impossible to tell how far away he is, shouts, “Come on. Let’s go.” The owner of the smartphone, a woman, says, “I know. Okay, we’re going. We’re going. I promise.” But she isn’t going. She and the camera stay in their same spot.

Adriane walks into the middle of the room, points at the TV, and says, “Holy shit, this is what I saw.”

Leonard nods his head and narrows his eyes, but in an exaggerated manner, as though he’s pretending to listen, pretending to deeply consider what she says.

Sabrina backs away from the TV and mumbles something Eric thinks is, “Not what I saw.”

Adriane laughs. “I saw this exact fucking thing and I thought I was crazy, you know, because of The Goonies rock. I really did. There was one night last week I stayed up all night drinking black tea and I was out of milk but I kept drinking it because I didn’t want to go back asleep and see the goddamn Goonies rock get swamped again.” She looks excitedly around the room. “Only crazy people keep having tidal wave nightmares with people getting swallowed up at the fucking Goonies rock, right?” She laughs again, demonstrating what her going crazy would sound like. “Love that stupid movie. Still do. No matter what people say about it now.”

As Adriane talks there’s shouting on and off the screen, and a flash of an angry guy wearing black sunglasses and a white tank top. The camera finally starts moving away from Haystack Rock, which slowly recedes into the horizon, a horizon growing in height and coming toward the camera. There are faraway, small-in-volume screams that sound canned, and loud ones that are close, that could be in the cabin with them, and there are cries and shouts of run and help. A blue wall rises, its darker blue frosted with white contrasts with the indifference of the light blue sky. Those small digital blips of people down by the rocks are running but they are slow. Some of the small blips are smaller than others.

Sabrina walks in front of Wen, blocking her view of the TV. “Do you want to play in your room instead of watching this? Did you bring any

toys? I’d like to see them. Will you show me?”

Leonard says, “Sabrina, not now. You know they have to see-“

She snaps at him. “Nope. Wen doesn’t. She does not have to see anything more.”

“Sabrina . . .”

“She’s seen enough, don’t you think? You can let them watch. Fine. But she’s done. I’m done. And I’m taking her out of here. Come on, Wen. Show me your room and your toys, please.” She tries a smile, but it crumbles, unable to hold up the rest of her face. She reaches out a hand toward Wen.

Shouts and screams coming from the TV speakers grow louder as if making up for lost horrors.

Eric says, “Maybe that’s a good idea, Wen.” He says it before thinking and wishes he could take it back as soon as he says it.

Wen says, “No! I’m staying,” shakes her head violently, and leans into Andrew.

“You’re not going anywhere. I love you,” Andrew says. “What’s happening on TV doesn’t prove or mean anything. But don’t watch. Okay?”

Haystack Rock shrinks into the rising ocean, momentarily fulfilling a geological pledge made eons ago. The shark fin rocks are gone. The peopleblips who were running up the beach are gone and so is most of the beach.

The sunlight flashes brightly into the cabin again and Eric is washed away.

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