Chapter no 6

The Cabin at the End of the World

You don’t have to worry about me doing anything. I’m not leaving this chair until it’s all over. Andrew—hey, you should check on Eric. Eric, are you okay? Listen, Andrew, we need to talk. I—I don’t know if this is over yet. We have to check. Andrew? Andrew?”

Leonard prattles on. His voice is a burring rumble, looping inside Eric’s skull while there’s certainly no room for Leonard in there at all. Eric feels worse than he did yesterday in the initial agonizing hours after he bounced his head off the floor. This second round of concussion symptoms is more intense. While breathing and seeing are bearable acts now, the pressure and pain before this most recent blackout was near blinding. His throat stings and his mouth tastes like puke. He doesn’t remember vomiting. He doesn’t remember sitting against the front door.

He remembers his hands holding and manipulating rope but not feeling it. He remembers walking and then crawling through a miasmic haze. He remembers the open doorway and the light as an amorphous, malicious entity, so bright it was impossible they all weren’t burned to cinders. He remembers being afraid it was coming to take Wen away if he didn’t shut the door. He remembers Wen sitting on her knees next to him as he untied his legs. He remembers a bang, and Wen falling away from him. He remembers seeing her face and knowing she was gone. He remembers praying in his head please, God, no over and over, and maybe he was screaming it, too.

Leonard is still talking, as fuzzy as an old recording. “Eric? You should take it slow, Eric.”

Outside the sky has turned cloudy, overcast, as gray as November rain. Eric sits with his back against the front door, barricading the cabin,

preventing the terror of the light from reentry.

A few steps away Leonard is tied to a chair. A thin trickle of blood leaks down the left side of his face. There is more blood on the cabin floor, dark swollen ponds of it. One tributary leads away from the middle of the floor to Adriane’s body, which lies perpendicular to the screen slider. A gaggle of flies, as black as crows, flitter on and off her body; some flies linger on her neck and others spiral over her white mask and bounce madly off the screen door and kitchen windows. To Eric’s left and on the floor in front of Wen’s bedroom is a spread-out comforter. Thick and puffy, its light green has gone darker in the spots where it absorbs Wen’s blood. Andrew is sitting on the couch, his head is down, and his hair hangs in front of his face like the leaves and branches of a weeping willow. His arms vine underneath Wen’s body draped across his lap. She is swathed tightly in their flannel bedsheet. Queen-sized, there is enough material to transform her body into an oblong, formless cocoon, a chrysalis from which she will not emerge. The sheet is white and decorated with clusters of small blue flowers; they brought the flannel set from home in case it got cold in the cabin.

Eric says, “Andrew. Andrew?” He flashes to another time, lost but not forgotten, when Andrew was sitting like this and he smiled, held a finger to lips, and mouthed shh, she’s asleep.

Eric says, “Let’s get in the SUV and go.” “They slashed the tires.”

“Drive on the flat tires then. It doesn’t matter.” “It’s not going to make it.”

“We can try.”

Andrew speaks in sentences made of broken glass. “The SUV won’t get far. We can try, but it won’t make it all the way out to the main road. Might not even make it out of the driveway. Maybe we can find their car, which has to be parked somewhere on the road, right? Leonard doesn’t have keys on him, neither does Adriane. I checked. Even if we find keys, we’re still going to have to walk the dirt road. Some. All of it.”

“Then we’ll walk.” When Eric talks, the volume of the flies’ buzzing increases, a dangerous, collective thrumming, a warning so loud he wonders if a bee’s nest isn’t stirred up somewhere. Two flies, as plump as thumb heads, land on Leonard’s face. Leonard doesn’t so much as twitch as the flies explore his skin.


“Huh? Okay. Yeah. I’m here.” Eric sits up straighter, catching himself from slouching and sliding away into the black-hole center of the cabin.

Andrew says, “We’ll go when you are ready.” “I’m ready now.”

“Sabrina is still out there somewhere, and she has her weapon. I’m out of bullets. There’re more in the trunk. One of us has to carry Wen.”

“We’re not leaving her here.”

“Never. She’s coming with us. Wherever we go.”

Eric says, “Okay, come on, I’m ready.” Eric presses his body against the door and grinds himself into an upright position.

Leonard says, “Wait, please, wait! Before you go, you have to turn on the TV. Listen: Adriane’s dead so we have to turn on the TV and see what’s happening. See if there’s anything happening. Like we did yesterday, after Redmond. He died and we turned on the TV and we saw the cities drowning like I said we would. So we have to turn on the TV now. We have to see if—” Leonard pauses with his mouth open, like he cannot believe what came out of his mouth. Then repeats, “We have to see if—” and stops again.

Neither Andrew nor Eric asks for further explanation. Andrew’s head is down again, making a hermit’s cave out of himself.

Leonard continues. “We have to see if what happened here in the cabin stopped what is supposed to happen out there next. We have to see if Wen’s death is enough to stop the end of the world.”

Andrew rocks back and forth on the couch. He says, “I’m going to kill you if you say one more goddamn word.”

Leonard says, “If you do, you’ll still need to watch and find out if her death is accepted as the . . . the required sacrifice. A willing sacrifice. It has to be a willing sacrifice. That’s why we kept asking and begging you both to choose. We couldn’t sacrifice one of you. That wasn’t allowed. We told you; it was you who had to choose. It had to be a choice. I’m afraid she might not, um, might not count.”

Andrew shouts, “She doesn’t count? She doesn’t fucking count?”

“No, no, no, that’s not what I mean. Of course she counts, she counts more than anything in the world. I’m saying you were supposed to choose. The sacrifice was supposed to be a willing one. And it wasn’t. It was an accident, a terrible accident. No one chose this. Maybe it’s enough but I

don’t know. It—it doesn’t feel like it’s over. Turn on the TV and we’ll know. Just turn it on . . .”

Leonard rambles on about the television and how sorry he is for everything. Eric closes his eyes and sends out a general please, God in the name of your son Jesus Christ, help us prayer. He feels an oddly focused heat radiating through the front door along with the chainsaw sound of a mass of gathering insects. No, this—whatever this is—doesn’t feel like it’s over.

Andrew stands up, turns around, bends, and gently places Wen’s body on the couch. His right hand lingers, resting on her covered head.

Eric wanders away from the door and into the cabin. He says, “I’ll take her, you can give her to me. I won’t drop her,” and he holds out his arms. He isn’t sure Andrew hears him over the flies and Leonard’s continued, voluminous pleas.

Andrew hovers over Wen for a moment, and then he leans sharply to his left and grabs the dual-tipped weapon propped against the far end of the couch and wall. He spins and limps to Leonard, brandishing the sledgehammer end.

Leonard says sorry once more and goes quiet. He doesn’t beg or plead or ask for mercy. He doesn’t flex or strain against the ropes. He doesn’t close his eyes. He lifts his chin, neither defiant nor proud. He breathes audibly through his nose, and his body tremors and quakes.

Eric says, “Andrew? What are you doing?” and slides in front of him. His arms are still held out for Andrew to give him Wen’s body. “No, you can’t.”

The sledgehammer wavers as though caught in an irresistible magnetic field and itches to dart forward, and then Andrew drops that end of the weapon to the floor. Leonard jolts in his chair at the thud of metal and wood. Andrew says, “I already killed one of them,” and he motions at Adriane’s body. Then he looks over his shoulder at Wen on the couch. Tears glisten in his glassy eyes and he lifts the weapon again. “So I’m going to kill him, too.”

“You’re not a killer. Adriane attacked you with a knife and you defended yourself. He’s tied up and helpless.”

“He’s not fucking helpless.” “This is different. You can’t.”

“Wen is dead because of him! Eric, he fucking squeezed my hand and when he did . . . and when he did . . .”

Leonard sobs and says he didn’t mean to even though he promised nothing would happen to her. More flies leave Adriane’s body and orbit around Leonard like they are pets called to their owner.

Andrew says, “He made me shoot. The bullet came from the gun in my hand, my finger on the trigger. I shot her—”

“It’s not your fault.” Eric pushes the weapon down.

Andrew doesn’t resist and lets Eric guide the weapon until the rake-claw end is on the floor. He says, “It is my fault. I’m so sorry . . .”

“No, it isn’t.” Eric hugs Andrew. “It’s not your fault. I will never allow you to say it is.”

Andrew doesn’t drop the weapon to return the embrace, but he leans into Eric and rests his head on his shoulder. “Eric, what the fuck are we going to do?”

“We’re going to leave like you said.” Eric holds on for another moment and listens to Andrew breathe in and out. He releases Andrew and steps back, noticing they are standing in Adriane’s blood. He says, “Take the weapon in case Sabrina is out there waiting for us. I’ll get Wen.” For an irrational moment, Eric fears their feet will be forever stuck to the floor, the blood as amber. They’ll be fossilized, frozen in time, and not be found for millions of years.

Eric lurches to the couch, not so much dizzy as lacking any sense of equilibrium. Every step must be thought about and planned or the whole cabin will tilt like an unbalanced seesaw. Each correction he makes teeters into an uncoordinated overcorrection that threatens to topple him. He anchors himself by standing with the tops of both feet under the couch’s low frame. Now that he’s not concentrating on walking, he closes his eyes and prays, hoping God can parse the loose and stretched-out thoughts in his head. He asks for the strength to be able to carry his daughter away from this place. Away from this place away from this place away from this place becomes an interior mantra, and with its harried, manic repetition, the syllables and beats transform into unrecognizable noises not of language.

Eric opens his eyes, and the sheet covering Wen’s body is blackened with flies. They hover and they crawl over and weave between one another. Eric cries out and waves his arms frantically over her body. The flies ignore

him. They are fat and drunk. They are greedy. They are cruel and fearless. They are the darkening knots and threads of her shroud.

Andrew says, “Eric! Eric? What are you doing?” “I’m getting them off her. I want them off her.” “Getting what off her?”

“The flies. They’re all over our baby.” The enginelike roar of their collective wings is deep and guttural, a growl that turns into derisive laughter. He would be willing to spend an eternity crushing the flies’ bodies, one by one, between his fingers, if it’ll keep them away from Wen.

“I don’t see any . . . hey, if you can’t lift her—” “There’s just so many.”

“Are you sure you’re okay? How about you hold this thing and I’ll carry


“I’m fine. I can do this.”

Another voice worms into the cracks between the buzzing and Andrew

and Eric’s conversation. Leonard says, “Eric, turn on the TV.” He says it twice. He says it like it’s nothing more than a hey-try-this friendly suggestion.

The television. It’s there on the wall in front of him. The black screen is not quite a mirror, but it reflects his face and the cabin behind him, filtering the images in dark, muted tones. There’s color in the reflection, but at the same time there’s not. The rope around Leonard is white, Andrew’s long hair is black, and the pooled blood is a black red, so opaque the floor appears to be full of holes.

“Eric, turn on the TV.” Leonard’s patient request sounds like his own thought verbalized. Yes, he could turn the TV on. It would take very little effort and would not prevent them from leaving. He could turn it on and see whatever it is they might see. Maybe it would be an answer. Maybe it would be nothing. He remembers yesterday’s tsunamis and the filmed drownings and devastation. He can’t remember what promised calamity is supposed to be next. What could he see that’s worse than what he’s already seen in the cabin? He remembers his shame and guilt while watching the rising ocean swallowing the Oregonian coastline and its denizens and fleetingly believing the four strangers were who they said they were. Does he believe them now? Does he believe it enough to turn on the television? What if the screen stays blank and dark? Would that mean it’s all over, that everything and everyone is gone? Would he be relieved? What if the screen

flashes on and bathes the cabin in light? What if the void isn’t darkness, but is instead a sea of burning, unrelenting, unforgiving light?

Andrew shouts at Leonard, only inches from his face. He tells him to shut up and he doesn’t give a fuck about the TV.

Leonard says, “Just turn it on, please. We have to know if we stopped it, or if we didn’t,” and he says it as though there’s only him and Eric in the room, using the minimum amount of volume to be heard, to be understood.

Eric says, “We’re leaving now,” but he doesn’t move to pick up Wen.

Andrew says, “Eric? You’re not listening to him, are you? Hey, are you all right? Maybe you should sit down for a minute.”

One fly lands on the TV screen’s lower right corner and crawls in looping, sideways eights. Eric says, “We’re going to leave right now,” or maybe he doesn’t and only thinks it. He reaches out and the fly guides his hand to the power button on the inside edge of the almost invisible plastic frame. The button is hidden and half the size of his finger pad. He presses it.

After a second or two delay, a confusing, bracing collage of colors and images fills the screen to its borders, accompanied by the sound of an authority, a narrator talking offscreen. Eric squints and is initially unable to focus on what’s happening: the scrolling text banners with blurry words and numbers, images changing from overhead shots of an airport to a hospital with doctors wearing hazmat-esque shields and gowns, crowded sidewalks, bustling markets, and packed-beyond-capacity subways, many of the people wearing surgical masks over their noses and mouths, and quick cuts to iconic images of a metropolitan city Eric would normally recognize instantly. He succumbs to the withering onslaught of sight and sound and slinks away from the TV and the couch, and he bumps into Andrew.

Andrew puts a hand on Eric’s shoulder and turns him so they face each other. He asks, “Why’d you do that?” and he gives Eric a confused look of betrayal.

Eric doesn’t recall deciding or deliberating whether to turn the television on or not. He says, “There was a fly . . .”

“A what?”

“We’re going. I’ll get Wen,” Eric says. His voice is a decayed echo.

Leonard cries out. “We didn’t stop it! We didn’t stop anything! We’re another step closer to the end.”

Andrew says, “Shut up,” but there isn’t much oomph behind it. His head is turned slightly to the television, giving it the same distrustful side glance he gave Eric.

Leonard sniffles and coughs and shouts between deep, shuddering breaths. “Remember, I told you yesterday. Oceans would rise and drown cities—which happened, you can’t deny that, you saw it—and I said then a plague would descend—”

Eric interrupts and says, “Then you said the skies will fall and crash to earth like pieces of glass and then a final everlasting darkness.” He didn’t plan on reciting that doomed litany, just like he did not plan to turn on the television.

Leonard appears nonplussed at having his words repeated back to him. “Yeah. Right. Um, yes, I said that—yeah, a plague, a plague would descend, and it’s here, it’s happening.”

On the screen is a slideshow of images from Hong Kong. Among them: the Blue House in Wan Chai. Andrew’s favorite building from their trip, it features a museum on the ground floor called the Hong Kong House of Stories, which was where they spent their last morning in the city before heading north to Hubei Province. Back home, hanging on the wall above their computer desk are two framed photos: one with the two of them standing in front of the Blue House, their chests puffed out in Superman poses, their smiles equally heroic; the other is of the Jardine House, a beanstalk-tall skyscraper with windows shaped like giant portals, or holes (this is Eric’s favorite building and Andrew playfully teases him that he only likes it because it’s full of bankers). The collage of this-is-the-city images ends with a field reporter in the middle of the bustling Kowloon City Wet Market, her surgical mask pulled away from her mouth so it hangs limply around her neck.

In the lower left corner of the screen, stacked above the omnipresent news scroll, is a red, rectangular box. The text inside the box is the name of the program: City Zero: Hong Kong and the Fight Against Bird Flu. The reporter talks about the surging number of human cases of H7N9 in Hong Kong since January with a mortality rate at almost 40 percent. The government has ordered millions of chickens and ducks culled throughout the region in recent months, and within Hong Kong there is the growing probability of quarantines for the hardest-hit neighborhoods and would include the closing of open-air markets. In recent weeks, dead birds with

the avian flu strain have turned up in Suffolk, England, Germany, and at a Grayson chicken farm in Tennessee, increasing fears of a possible pandemic.

“Why did you turn it on?” Andrew asks again.

Eric shakes his head even though it’s not a yes or no question. He wipes his eyes with the backs of his sweaty, bloody hands. He repeats his away from this place prayer in his head.

Andrew leans in and whispers, “Are you starting to believe him, Eric?” Eric wants to say no. He yearns to. But he is in so much pain and grief,

and he is confused and fatigued and he wants to lie on the couch next to Wen and close his eyes, and he’s afraid if he says no to Andrew’s question, they’ll never be allowed to go away from this place. He says, “I’m sorry.”

Andrew stutters through saying, “Eric—what are you, what are you saying? You can’t. You’re not, you’re not thinking clearly.”

Leonard says, “Guys, look. You didn’t choose to make a sacrifice. Wen’s death was an accident so that won’t stop the apocalypse from happening. I said a plague would come next and here it is. Don’t you see it? Everything that’s happened—you have to see it now. The only way to prevent the end of everything is for you to willingly sacrifice one or the other.”

Andrew dives at Leonard, throws both hands forward, and hits him in the face with the wooden handle, connecting at the bridge of his nose. Leonard’s head snaps back with a grunt and blood gushes from his nose and down his already stained shirt.

Eric grabs Andrew’s arm and pulls him away from hitting Leonard again. He points at the TV and says, “He said there would be a plague.”

Andrew’s voice goes high pitched, filled with the helium of incredulity. “This? I’ve been reading about these bird flu cases for months already. This isn’t a fucking plague—it’s, what, a news report. It isn’t even being broadcast live.” He stalks to the TV and points at the red title-box on the screen. “It’s preprogramming. It’s a TV show. It has a fucking title for Chrissakes. Breaking news doesn’t have a title. Leonard, Sabrina, all of them knew this bird flu show was going to be on and knew what time.”

Leonard says, “Come on, Andrew. How can you—”

“Shut your fucking mouth or I’ll bash it in.” Andrew swivels his head, looking around the room. “Where’s the remote? Find it, and hit the guide button. You’ll see the title show up in the menu. It’s a fucking

preprogrammed show. They knew about it before they came out here and made it part of their narrative.”

Eric has both arms around one of Andrew’s. What Andrew is saying is rational, but it sounds desperately rational.

Andrew says, “So God drops a couple of earthquakes but then had to wait for us to eat dinner and get a good night’s sleep before dialing up the slow-moving-already-been-in-the-news-all-summer plague? Eric, they were all checking their watches this morning; all of them were, just like Leonard was yesterday. Do you remember them doing that? It was so obvious. They weren’t even trying to hide it.”

Leonard says, “I check my watch when I get nervous.” He sounds sheepish, like he’s apologizing. “I don’t even realize I’m doing it most of the time.”

Eric says, “The others were checking their watches, too.” He doesn’t remember them doing so, but assumes that Andrew isn’t lying or misremembering. Eric says this because he wants to still be on Andrew’s side.

Leonard says, “I’m sure they were nervous, too. And the thing is, we all felt it, felt the time coming, you know. And we were made to know that your choice had to come soon. So, like anybody would, we checked our watches.”

Eric is beginning to believe Leonard, yet even to his ears that explanation is awkward and clunky.

Andrew says, “Who even wears a watch anymore? You all just check your phones. Especially people your age. You’re telling us you four all show up and just happen to be wearing watches? No. You knew you were coming out to this cabin and there’d be no cell reception and you had to be able to tell time.”

“That’s not it at all, I swear . . .”

“Listen to him, Eric. Can’t you tell he’s lying? They knew this bird flu show was on today at this time just like they knew the Alaskan earthquake and the tsunami warnings had already happened before they showed up to the cabin . . .”

“I know. You’re right.” The buzzing is all around Eric. He thinks he knows what Leonard meant when he said he felt the time coming, like it was a physical thing made of presence and purpose. He remembers the figure made of light and maybe what he saw was time made manifest, and that’s

not right but it feels closer to the truth, and he wants to tell Andrew about it. Instead, he says, “But there was another quake after the Alaskan one. That was the one that killed all those people. Leonard and the others didn’t hear about that one before they showed up. That one happened live, while we watched.” Eric silently prays that he’s wrong and that they will be allowed to leave.


“That was the one they predicted, and Adriane said she saw it happening at the beach with the giant rock.”

“She didn’t see anything but The Goonies. That quake was triggered by the first one, the one they knew about, and they got lucky—why are we even talking about this, Eric?”

“Now this bird flu outbreak. And in Hong Kong, our special place, our city, Andrew. Remember when we were there and we called it our city?” The trip to China was Eric’s first time out of North America. Eric was so anxious and excited on the plane he couldn’t sleep and watched five in-flight movies in a row. During the four days spent in Hong Kong, they crammed in as much as they could see and do, a rapturous final fling of their old lives before the adventure of their new one with Wen began. “It means something that it’s there, that it’s happening there.”

“It doesn’t mean anything. I already told you; China has been dealing with this outbreak for months. I’m not going to argue about this with you. It’s what he wants. So let’s go. You and me and—and Wen.” His voice breaks and his indignation and anger evaporate. His eyes tear up. “If you’re ready, then let’s go. I can’t—we can’t stay here.”

Sabrina’s voice billows into the cabin from below. “Hey, it’s me, Sabrina. I’m coming up the basement stairs, now, okay? I’m not going to hurt anyone, so please don’t hurt me.”

No one answers her. Her footfalls echo on the wooden stairs, a slow, uneven dirge that changes in pitch and tone the closer she gets to the main cabin floor. She has her curled shovel blade–tipped weapon with her, but she does not hold it threateningly. She carries it more like a scarlet letter, a final judgment she cannot escape.

She says, “I’ve been down there for a while. Listening to you and the TV. So I know—so I know we didn’t stop it.” She looks at Andrew and Eric and sidesteps away from the basement stairs. Her face is streaked with dirt, her hair dark with sweat. Her off-white shirt is a crusted map of yesterday’s

blood. “I don’t know what—I don’t know how it happened, but I’m truly sorry about Wen. I don’t know what to say.”

Andrew says, “Then fucking don’t say anything. And don’t come near us.”

“Yeah, okay.” Sabrina leans against the wall separating the bedroom doors and cranes her head toward the screen slider. “I’m sorry about Adriane, too. But she shouldn’t have been threatening you. That wasn’t supposed to happen.”

“Turn out your pockets,” Andrew says to Sabrina, and motions at her with the sledgehammer.


“Keys. Keys to your car that has to be parked somewhere near here.”

Sabrina pulls out her empty pockets. The white cloth sticks out from her hips like mocking tongues. She rotates and runs hands over her smooth back pockets.

The news report rattles on in the background with a narrated video of dead birds bulldozed into piles and incinerated.

Andrew says, “Eric, can you shut that off, please?”

Eric goes to the TV and with the vivid, flashing images close to his throbbing head he squints and looks away. He fumbles about the side control panel pressing buttons until he hears the commentator cut out while discussing the most recent administration’s ill-advised and crippling funding cuts to the Centers for Disease Control’s pandemic preparedness programs. Eric only mutes the audio, however, and the video continues to broadcast.

A spinning bout of vertigo strikes and Eric sinks into the couch, sitting next to Wen and with the flies. Eric knows they are eager to crawl on him, too. He lifts Wen’s body and slides her across his lap. She is rolled up like an ancient map to a lost place.

Andrew says, “Eric? Are you okay? We should go now, don’t you think?”

“I can’t—not yet.”

“Are you sure? I think we really should go.”

Eric says, “I don’t feel right—I need a few minutes. Just a few minutes. Then we’ll go. Together, I promise.” He prays he will be able to keep that promise.

The flies leave Wen’s body and disperse like released spores. Eric is relieved they are leaving Wen, but their forming an indoor storm cloud is an awful sight. They swirl and they land and they creep over the walls, tables, chairs, and they crawl on Sabrina and Leonard, on their hands and their mouths and over their eyes. Their unremitting buzzing sounds like it’s crackling through the muted television speakers, and theirs is an ancient message of immutable decay, rot, and of ultimate defeat.

Sabrina and Leonard

“I don’t feel right—I need a few minutes. Just a few minutes. Then we’ll go. Together, I promise.”

“That’s okay, take some time, but we have to go as soon as you can. We can’t stay here.” Andrew puts a hand on Eric’s shoulder and rubs his back. Eric mumbles something they cannot hear and he leans into Andrew’s hip.

Leonard is battered, a diminished and broken King Kong after the swan dive off the Empire State Building. Sabrina is pressed against the wall as though standing on the crumbling ledge of a cliff face. They share a look. They wonder what the other is thinking, what the other believes, and what the other is going to do. They wonder if they’ve truly shared the same visions, the same commands. They wonder if the other is who they say they are. They wonder if the other is what they would consider to be a good person before they were called here. They share a protracted, probing look. They realize they do not know each other, not in the slightest. They realize in this darkest hour of the darkest day they are alone, fundamentally alone.

Sabrina says, “This should be over, Leonard.” “But it isn’t.”

“I know, I know. But what happened should be enough. Why isn’t it enough?”

“She wasn’t a willing—”

“I don’t care. It’s not right. They’ve already lost too much. It’s so not right I can’t even say how not right it is.”

“I agree but it’s not up to us.”

Andrew halfheartedly tells them to be quiet.

Sabrina says, “I don’t care what you do, but I’m going to fight it. I fought it before—I did, I swear I did. But now—no more of this. I’m done.

We should’ve—I don’t know—done something more to resist this. To reject it. There’s no way—”

“There will come a point when you won’t be able to. You know that.” He isn’t mocking or threatening. He’s being commiserative.

“Why us? Why are we being made to do this, Leonard? Why is this even happening at all? This is barbaric and vile and evil shit. And we’re a part of it, all of it.”

“I don’t know, Sabrina. I really don’t. I don’t understand and we’re not supposed to understand.”

“That’s such bullshit.”

“We’re trying to save billions of lives. The suffering of a few for—”

“It’s still not right. It’s all capricious and cruel. What kind of god or universe or whatever wants this, demands this?”

Leonard sighs and doesn’t answer. He stares at Sabrina and blinks.

“No, no. You have to answer. I know what my answer is. I need to know yours. I want to hear what Leonard—” She pauses and laughs. “I was gonna say your last name but I don’t know what it is. Isn’t that fucked?”

He says, “It’s—”

“I don’t care about your last name! I want your answer. Tell me. What kind of god is making all this happen?”

“The one we have.”

They share another look. Leonard is misshapen, grotesque, an unfinished monster. Sabrina stands at the disintegrating edge of a lava flow and the air she breathes is poisonous. They wonder if one or both or neither of them is crazy and they wonder if it even matters. They wonder if the other has always been as weak as they are now. They share another long look. This one is reserved for ill-fated observers in the moments before impending, inescapable calamity, whether it be natural disaster or the violent failure of humanity; a look of resigned melancholy and awe, unblinking in the face of a revealed, horrific, sacred truth. And they realize again, in this darkest hour of the darkest day, they remain alone, fundamentally alone.

Sabrina nods and she drops her staff and it lies on the floor like a borderline. “I never believed in it. But this is fucking hell.”


It’s clear Eric’s concussion has left him more compromised than Andrew originally thought. He can’t possibly give Eric the rest needed to recover enough for him to be able to walk any sort of distance, even if it’s only to the others’ car parked presumably somewhere nearby. Does he leave Eric here and go for help on his own? No, that is not an option. He will never leave Eric or Wen alone again.

Andrew looks at Wen’s sheet-covered body and he can still feel Leonard squeezing his hands, his finger folding in, collapsing on the trigger, and the hitch and the click, and the gun kicking back. He didn’t know where the bullet went and then Eric screamed and scrambled on all fours to Wen. She was lying on her back with her knees and legs bent under her. Andrew saw her shattered face and he dropped to the floor next to Eric. His eyes flooded with tears he did not wipe or blink away so his view would remain distorted, refracted as though looking up from the bottom of a well. A blur of seconds later Eric was passed out against the door and Andrew stood alone in front of a tied-up Leonard, his gun empty of bullets but his finger pulling the trigger. Eventually he stuffed the gun in his back pocket and then checked Leonard’s empty ones for keys. He checked Adriane’s pockets, too. He dragged her body to the deck because he didn’t know what else to do. He was going to check O’Bannon’s pockets, but he didn’t want to leave Eric alone inside the cabin while he was unconscious and he didn’t want to leave Wen lying on the floor. He went into their bedroom and gathered the flannel sheets. As he carefully wrapped her body, everything was under water again, and he said her name. He lifted her off the floor and sat with her on the couch, and he said her name. He didn’t know what else he could possibly say. He rested his forehead against hers, gently kissed the tip of her nose through the sheet, and he whispered he was sorry. He wanted to tell her the gun going off was an accident, wasn’t his fault, but he couldn’t. Instead, he said her name again and again. He said her name like he was afraid she would never hear anyone say it again. He said her name like it was a solemn oath to take her away from this place and bring her home.

Sabrina drops her staff. The twisted shovel blade clangs at contact with the floor, knocking Andrew out of his paralyzing fugue. She says, “I never believed in it. But this is fucking hell.”

Leonard says, “There’s still a chance. They still have a choice. They can choose to save everyone.”

Sabrina says, “Everyone else, you mean.”

Andrew imagines hitting Leonard with the sledgehammer until his head is the lumpy, spent wax of a used candle. The gaping pit of grief and rage demands to be filled with this act. Sabrina is now unarmed and if she attempts to intervene on Leonard’s behalf, he can chop her down, too.

Leonard says, “Sabrina?” “What?”

“Will you put the white mask on me, after? I don’t think I’m getting out of this chair alive.”

Andrew imagines bludgeoning both Leonard and Sabrina and then sitting on the couch with Eric and Wen. He and Eric will cradle her on their laps and they will wait in peace for as long as Eric needs, until he is ready to go.

Sabrina ignores Leonard’s question, slowly walks across the room, and stops in front of Andrew. She says, “You never asked why we killed Redmond.”

Andrew takes his hand off Eric’s back and regrips the weapon. Eric says, “Don’t, Andrew.”

Andrew says to Sabrina, “You mean your pal O’Bannon? That the guy you mean?”

“He was never my pal. I never trusted him but—but I still came here with him, I know. I’ll never be able to explain it, or even believe it myself . . .”

Andrew says, “I’m pretty sure I can.”

Sabrina nods. “We didn’t come out and tell you about what our part in this is. I mean, besides presenting you with the choice. Have you figured that out yet?”

“Back away now or I start swinging. And find yourself a chair to sit in, too.” Andrew has taught apocalyptic literature for years, calling his course This Is How the World Ends. The course has occasionally included a literary analysis of the Bible’s Book of Revelation and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding their red, black, white, and pale horses. Over the years the course syllabus has evolved, but one of the main arguments/discussions he has with his students remains a constant. No matter how bleak or dire, end-of-the-world scenarios appeal to us because we take meaning from the end. Aside from the obvious and well-discussed idea that our narcissism is served when imagining we, out of all the billions who perish, might survive,

Andrew has argued there’s also undeniable allure to witnessing the beginning of the end and perishing along with everyone and everything else. He has impishly said to a classroom, to the scowl of more than a few students, “Within the kernel of end-times awe and ecstasy is the seed of all organized religions.” Of course Andrew has figured out the four strangers’ quasi-Christian endgame, but he doesn’t want Sabrina explaining it and making biblical connections in front of Eric—his Catholic faith is as confounding and mysterious to Andrew as it is endearing—while he’s in this addled, vulnerable mental state.

Sabrina doesn’t move. “I will sit and do whatever you ask, just let me explain, let me tell you this first.”

“Back the fuck up now.”

Eric interjects, “If Andrew and I didn’t choose to make a sacrifice, then you four had to make one.”

“Don’t talk like that.” Andrew crouches so he can look Eric in the eye. His right knee gives out on the way down. The looseness, the detachment of his swollen knee from the rest of his leg makes his head go dizzy and hot. He wonders if he’ll be able to complete any sort of hike on this knee. What if they can’t get car keys from Sabrina or Leonard? Do he and Eric risk walking down the road, finding their car, and hoping they hid a key somewhere? Andrew’s dad used to hide a spare to his truck in the driver’s-side wheel well. Maybe they go up the road in the opposite direction, deeper into the woods, and to the closest cabin that’s a few miles away, break in, and hope the cabin has a phone.

Everything in Andrew screams to get out of this place of death and madness and figure it all out after. He leans on the staff and says, “Eric,” until Eric looks at him. “Listen to me. I love you, and we have to go now. All right? I know you can do it.”

“I love you, too. But I don’t—”

“We can take breaks and rests when we’re on the road, as many as we need. We’ll make it.” Andrew stands, slides an arm under Eric’s, and tugs him up.

Eric doesn’t stand and stays sitting with Wen. “Not yet. One more minute, please.”

Sabrina says, “He’s right, Andrew. When you didn’t choose, we were forced to kill Redmond.”

“I don’t want to fucking hear any of this!” Andrew shouts.

Sabrina holds up four fingers. “After he died, the earthquake and tsunami hit.” She folds down her pinky, making the number three. “Adriane dies, then the bird flu spreads.” She curls another finger into her palm. Two fingers held up, a mocking peace sign. “There’s only two of us left. If you don’t choose to make a sacrifice, then Leonard and I will be the sacrifices. Each time one of us dies”—she folds down another finger—“another calamity—”

“The skies will fall and crash to pieces like glass,” Eric says, like he’s participating in a call-and-response prayer.

Sabrina continues, “—and the apocalypse is another step closer. And if you don’t choose and the last of our four dies—” Her fist swallows up the last finger.

Eric says, “The final darkness. That’s what Leonard said.”

“—then it’ll be the end of everything. When the last of us are dead, there are no more chances for you to stop the apocalypse.”

Andrew wobbles across the room toward Sabrina. “I said stop talking.” “Before we got here, Leonard and I wanted to spell it all out for you, tell

you everything we knew as soon as we walked into the cabin. Redmond and Adriane talked us out of it. We knew we had an impossible sell and, look, we’re not stupid or crazy—I wish we were crazy . . .”

Leonard says, “You’re not crazy.”

“I think it’s both now,” she says without explaining what she means. “Andrew, you weren’t going to believe us, believe why we were here, believe in the choice and the consequences, especially when we first presented it to you, and maybe not ever. So we couldn’t risk telling you we would kill each other off one by one if you chose to never make a sacrifice. We were afraid you’d wait us out, watch us kill each other, and then the world would end.”

“Get a chair, put it against the front wall, and sit down,” Andrew says.

“Maybe the world should end if any small part of it was made to be like this.” Sabrina nods as though she’s made a decision or a pact. She faces Leonard and points at the television. “Did you know this bird flu show was going to be on?”

Leonard is surprised by her sudden pivot. “Huh? Y-yeah. Well, no. I mean, I didn’t know there would be a show like this, or what kind of, um, plague, there’d be, or even where, but I knew there’d be some kind of deadly illness.”

“How’d you know?”

“Sabrina, why are you—?”

“Before we came up here, you told us the plague would happen around nine o’clock if they didn’t make a choice in the early morning of the second day. Adriane and I had a vague sense of a plaguelike calamity happening after the tsunami but not the precise time. You gave us a time.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. I just knew the time it would happen, like it was always there in my head, waiting for me to find it.”

“You didn’t check the television programming schedule before we met up with you?”

“No, of course not.”

Andrew doesn’t know what Sabrina is doing, why she’s now grilling Leonard about the show and the timing, why she has seemingly flipped to arguing Andrew’s side.

She says, “Redmond said he knew the time, too. Did he tell you first?” “No, I knew the time before he and I—or any of us—talked about it.” “Are you sure?”

Leonard sighs. “Yes. I’m sure.”

“So he only knew the time because you told him?”

“I have no idea what he knew or was shown. Why all these questions now? You can’t doubt what’s happening—”

Andrew says, “I really don’t care anymore. You guys will have plenty of time to figure it out once we’re out of here. Take that chair and sit, Sabrina, or I’m going to have to hurt you both. Know that I won’t hesitate to hurt you.”

Sabrina says, “I’m going to help you and Eric leave here if you’ll let me.”


I tell you, Andrew and Eric, the four of us hid the keys to Redmond’s truck, buried them a few paces away from the dirt road. Or maybe I should say O’Bannon instead of Redmond because even if Andrew is mistaken, I believe that’s who he is now. Redmond was awful even when I first encountered him on the online message board. He made jokes about posting dick pics and asked what Adriane and I were wearing while we shared the dreams, nightmares, messages, and visions we were all experiencing, and

what it was doing to our lives. Despite Redmond, I was relieved there were others living through the same thing. Yes, obviously our shared visions were terrifying, but as frightened as I was, finding the others meant I wasn’t alone, and it meant I wasn’t having some sort of psychotic break and I could stop the obsessive self-analysis and self-diagnosis. The first night on the message board together, we didn’t know yet what the visions meant or that we had any part to play. I hoped we were going to be like prophets, or something. Warn people, you know? Warn them about what might happen if we didn’t stop doing all the shitty things we’re all doing to one another and to the environment. I told the others how it started with me hearing whispers a few nights before while I was in line at In-N-Out Burger. The burger was my reward for a long day of entrance exam prep; I was planning to apply to nurse practitioner master’s programs in the California State University system. So at first I thought some creep behind me was whispering in my ear. And it wasn’t just hearing the whisper; I felt breathed-out air pushing through my hair and brushing the rim of my ear. I turned but there was no one in line behind me. I must’ve looked like a lunatic spinning around like I did. I tried to pass it off as my own yammering brain unable to come down from study mode and I pawed at my ears like there was a fly or mosquito dive-bombing me. I nearly shouted my order at the confused kid behind the counter. The whispering continued and I thought maybe it was the clunky air-conditioning operating at some weird frequency, so instead of eating at the restaurant like I’d planned, I scooped everything off the tray and ran out to my car. I was exhausted and now totally freaked out and the voice was still there with me. It wasn’t in my head. It sounded like someone talking through the tiny speakers of a cell phone but when the phone wasn’t against my ear and was instead crammed inside my jeans pocket, or lost inside my bag, or it had fallen down underneath the driver’s seat. Believe me, I’ve thought long and hard about this and I know it’s what a crazy person who doesn’t know she’s going crazy would say, but it wasn’t in my head. That small voice existed independent of me and it was coming from somewhere inside the car. I drove home with the radio tuned to KRock and blasting at full volume. I shouted and I sang along with songs I didn’t know the words to. I parked and ran up to my little second-floor studio apartment, fumbling with the keys at the front door like some slasher movie victim moments before the knife blade flashes, and then I was inside and I dropped my food on the

kitchen table, which was covered in papers and the exam practice booklet. The apartment was quiet but for the ticking of the central air and muffled steps coming from the floor above. No voice or whispers, but my apartment seemed off, like it had been staged to look like the way I would’ve left it, but there were imperceptible inauthenticities. Something was wrong, or would be wrong, and all I could do was wait for the wrong to happen. The more I listened, percolating up from below those everyday background noises I usually ignored, there was a high-pitched ringing, the kind you get in your ears after a really loud concert, but it wasn’t coming from inside my head or my ears. A spanned distance was communicated in how it sounded. A great, impossible distance. The ringing pitched lower, like the hum of slowing fan blades, and focused into words that were in my own voice but not a voice I’ve ever used. I sat and I listened. I never ate that stupid burger and I fell asleep at the table and I dreamed. Those dreams from that first night are a deck of used playing cards, the colors faded, corners bent and peeling, and some of the cards are missing and I don’t know which ones are gone but they are the important ones, the most important. I do remember everything the voice said to me, though. And I remember the physical part of listening. I remember what those words felt like.

I tell you, Andrew and Eric, the morning after finding the message board (I’d stayed up into the early morning hours typing, reading, and rereading everyone’s posts), I woke with a compulsion to drive to Valencia, a town twenty miles north of Los Angeles. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid and I had no idea why I was supposed to go or what I would find. I was still buzzing after connecting with the others online so I indulged this compulsion instead of denying it. This might sound strange, but the idea of dropping everything to drive to who-knows-where was both terrifying and thrilling, and it was a relief, too. It was relief to give in, even knowing this act of belief would irreparably change my life. I didn’t want or crave that change, at least not consciously. Until the night at In-N-Out, I was 100 percent focused on my job and getting into a master’s program, to the detriment of my already meager social life, but that didn’t really matter to me. I was happy, or if I wasn’t happy, I was all right, and that was plenty good enough. But that morning I called in sick to the hospital, although I knew the written recommendation I needed from my supervisor for my school applications was becoming less glowing with each passing sick day, now the third in a week. She was royally pissed but I had no choice. Or I

convinced myself I had no choice. Either way, for this once proud and lifelong agnostic, the possibilities and implications of the fucked-up adventure were intoxicating. For some reason I’d been chosen. I was being given proof there was something out there greater than me or greater than us, something beyond our everyday, and it was communicating with me, and telling me what to do. Do you have any idea how delicious it is to give yourself over to something else so completely? So I did.

I say to you, Andrew and Eric, trust the process, right? Dad’s favorite saying, applied to everything from sports to career to politics to relationships to dealing with grief after Mom died a few years ago. God, I hated that saying and how often he’d say it. It made this big strong guy seem so mealymouthed, passive, weak, resigned to failure. Trust the process and a shrug. Might as well wear a shirt that reads FINE, I GIVE UP. I yelled at him in front of the oncologist, after hearing the details of proposed and (I knew) desperate treatment, he said, “Trust the process,” like it was a goddamned hallelujah. I should tell him I’m sorry, now, because I can’t count how many times I’ve said trust the process to myself over the last seven days. My holy mantra. I said it when I was home and ignoring the pleading where are you? texts and voice messages from work, friends, and Dad, too. I said it when I took mesh from orthopedics and made our four white masks as a vision instructed me to, no reason yet to be given for their existence and usage. Never a reason. I said it when I bought the plane ticket. I said it when I met Leonard, Adriane, and Redmond for the first time at a Burger King rest stop on the highway, and I said it when I saw they were all wearing jeans and button-down shirts like me and Redmond joked that we looked like a lame indie rock band, and I said it when the shirts’ different colors made sense and told me all I needed to know about who each of us was or was supposed to be. I said it when we first verbalized what it was we were actually going to do out here at the cabin, and I said it when I looked into Redmond’s pickup truck bed and saw he made the staffs for us with their spiked metal tops and the one with the bonus hammer-block tacked on, each of them right out of a dream I had on the plane ride out here, like he’d plucked them out of my head and dropped them in the truck, and I said it when he told us about how he’d made them without remembering or knowing exactly how he’d made them, and I said it when I climbed into Redmond’s truck cab, and I said it as those awful things rattled around the truck bed with each bump and turn, and I said it when we parked

on the dirt road and I said it when I picked up the weapon built for me to use and I said it when we knew we could use the rope but not the rolls of duct tape, and I said it when I tried to text Dad, “Trust the process. I love you,” and then we left our phones in the truck and we started walking here, and I said it before we forced our way into the cabin. And I keep saying it. I even fucking said it before I walked up the basement stairs like ten minutes ago. Trust the process. Dumbly believe things are how they’re supposed to be and that they will work out simply because of that belief, even if you know better.

I tell you, Andrew and Eric, about my impromptu trip to Valencia, how I drove north on the I-5 without any maps or GPS and I got off at a random exit. I didn’t know what I was looking for and I navigated through suburban sprawl and then to San Francisquito Canyon Road, which goes rural in an eyeblink and carves through rolling hills and forest like a winding river. At a severe bend in the road, I pulled over and parked in a small gravel lot buffeted by a cement divider. Beyond the divider was the former San Francisquito Road. It’d been closed and rerouted after numerous washouts. The closed road follows alongside the ruins of the St. Francis Dam, which collapsed in the middle of one night in March 1928, sending giant chunks of cement and billions of gallons of water rushing through the valley, wiping out houses and ranches, killing more than four hundred people, washing bodies all the way to the Pacific Ocean. I didn’t know anything about the dam until after I got home and looked it up online. While I was there walking the path of the ruins, I walked alone, dutifully following the closed road, which was being overrun and swallowed up by the surrounding vegetation and clay and dirt. I walked through the valley, dry and bleached and as empty of people as the surface of the moon. There was a cloudless blue sky above the craggy, shadowed faces of the surrounding hills and the only sounds came from bugs and it felt like I was walking through a postapocalyptic landscape. My earlier excitement quickly faded. Whatever I was going to be shown, I was sure I wouldn’t be able to stop it and my only purpose was to be a witness.

I tell you, Andrew and Eric, I now wish my only role was to be a passive witness of the end. I took my time and I was careful not to walk too fast so I could see and mark everything, and maybe thirty minutes in, there was a fifteen-foot-tall, cube-shaped boulder of dam just off the road and squatting in the brush like a sunning tortoise. Its sand-colored, crumbly

concrete was striated, and from the road it looked like a section of a staircase for a giant. Like I said, I didn’t know it was a piece of the St. Francis Dam until I got home, so I didn’t know what it was other than a man-made ruin, a leftover, a gravestone for a doomed past. I kept walking and following the road, and maybe another thirty minutes later I stopped. I was made to stop. I now think I was in the spot where the dam had been built and spanned across the valley. I left the road and hiked over to an area covered with rubble, a mix of stones and small bits of porous cement. I stood in the lowest point of the valley and it was as quiet as the bottom of the sea. I expected, I don’t know, to see someone or something (I still can’t bring myself to say God, or a god) come over the hilltops and—this sounds crazy, I know—grab me, pick me up because I felt doll-sized, and I didn’t think I was alone anymore, and it wasn’t a good feeling. Then everything went black.

I tell you, Andrew and Eric, I know Adriane said she saw The Goonies rock and the tsunami before we saw it all on TV. I never saw that. I won’t lie to you. That’s a promise I can keep. I’d marched the path of a great flood without knowing it and I didn’t see anything other than darkness. It wasn’t like I’d lost time or something and it had become night in the valley. It wasn’t night-dark; I couldn’t see anything. There was nothing. I was nothing. But then I heard groans and high-pitched sounds of stress and I could only imagine one of the hills was going to burst or break above me. There was a thunderous crack and a low vibrato whoosh sounding like the earth itself giving a defeated sigh, and then an ocean of water cascading and rushing over me, past me, and into the landscape I could no longer see. There was the percussive snapping of trees and crunch of collapsing houses and buildings. There were people, so many people, screaming and screaming, and the worst part was the screams went unfinished; the screams cut out and left me to fill in how they were supposed to continue. In the valley I listened to an apocalypse that already happened and I was listening to the end of everything else, and that end would never cease. The callous rush of water didn’t stop and continued long past the final echoes of destruction and death. It went on forever. I went along with it, neither cold nor warm, or anything really, another piece of detritus floating away. Part of me is still there now. At some point I was extracted out of that endless time, and I wasn’t in the dark, and I was back at my car and it was almost noon. I don’t remember walking back to the car. Trust the process, right?

I tell you, Andrew and Eric, there are other gaps in my memory. Gaps I don’t care to fill in. I already told you how I tried not to come to New Hampshire and how I just sort of came back to myself, from wherever I was, and I was sitting in a cab on the way to LAX.

Just let me tell you this, Andrew and Eric: I wasn’t me, or I wasn’t all there when the three of us killed Redmond. It was like a trance, I guess, though I’ve never been in a trance so how would I know? I think a part of me, the best part, the important part, got sent back to the nothingness, floating along in the never-ending end in the valley, but enough of me was left behind here to see Redmond grinning through his masked face and to feel the wooden handle vibrate in my hands as I smashed his head and to hear the sound it made. I wasn’t there for all of it. I can’t tell you how many times I swung and hit him. I can’t tell you which one of us landed the final, killing blow. I tell you, Andrew, I already cannot recall specifics about our struggle at your SUV. It’s like trying to remember something from early childhood. There’s only the barest and broadest traces of this happened and I was there.

Eric asks me if I’ve seen anyone else here or there (he doesn’t specify where there is) and he mumbles something about a figure and light. Andrew talks over him, nearly shouting, telling Eric to stop talking to me and he asks Eric if he’s ready to go yet. Eric doesn’t look at Andrew. He only looks at me. I try not to stare at his daughter, wrapped in a sheet and on his lap. It only occurs to me now that I’m being a terrible nurse for not insisting I look under the sheet at Wen, to make sure she’s beyond saving.

I tell you, Eric, I’ve never seen a figure like you described, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one here.

Eric says that right before Redmond was killed, he sensed a presence in the room with us. It was sort of like when you drop an egg into a pot of water and the water rises, is displaced. He says it was like that.

I don’t like what he is saying and I like how he looks even less. He has a lights-are-on-but-no-one’s-home glaze. I wonder if I looked like that when I was talking about my experiences and I already can’t remember how much or how little I actually said out loud to them or just thought.

Eric says he could feel the space in the room being displaced. He says he saw something appear, join the circle around Redmond before we started pummeling him. He says he tried to pass it off as a flash of light from the deck or a concussion- and stress-induced hallucination or migraine, one that

looked at him, one that regarded him. Eric enunciates “regarded.” He says he hasn’t seen the figure again, but he’s felt it hanging around. It was here somewhere after Adriane and Wen died, and Eric says he shut the cabin’s front door to keep it outside.

I ask you, Eric, is it here now?

He tells me no, but he thinks it will be soon.

Andrew charges across the room at me. He is crying and yelling, telling me to stop talking to Eric, to stop filling his head with nonsense and lies. To Eric he says you’re hurt and whatever you saw was a hallucination and you’re not thinking clearly.

I tell you, Andrew, I’m sorry and I’m not trying to convince Eric of anything and I want to help you both leave the cabin. That’s all I want to do now. That’s my only mission left in life, to help you both leave here and leave here alive.

Leonard says they have to choose again, and soon. His voice is a reveille, and the new part of me that isn’t an actual part of me stirs and I say yes without being able to stop the affirmation.

Andrew ignores Leonard and he tells me to sit in a chair and if I say another word he’ll kill me.

I hold my ground. If Andrew is going to swing that block hammer at my head, so be it. I tell you, Andrew, listen, Redmond’s truck is exactly three miles away from the cabin. On the side of the dirt road, about halfway between here and the truck, we hid the keys under a flat rock the size of a Frisbee. It’s slate colored, and half of it has a light-green beard of lichen and it’s maybe four steps off the road and into the brush. The rock is in front of a tree with a goiter-sized knot on its trunk. I don’t know what kind of tree, and I tell you, Andrew and Eric, I’m sorry. You can go now and try to find it yourselves, but it’ll be difficult to pick out the tree if you haven’t seen it before. So I am going to go with you.

Andrew says fuck you.

I say to you, Andrew and Eric, the four of us left our phones and wallets in the truck. Leaving the phones and the keys behind was our safety net. We’d decided we couldn’t risk having you overpower us, take the keys to the truck and simply drive away, leaving the world to die. Now that’s exactly what I’m going to help you do. I believe in what’s happening here, but I also don’t believe.

Leonard says my name like he’s a disapproving, disappointed parent, a self-appointed expert, an authority who has none. He tells me to stop talking about the truck and convince them to make the selfless choice. He says time is running out more quickly now.

I tell you, Andrew and Eric and Leonard, I don’t believe in this kind of god. I pause and laugh at myself. Instead of saying someone or something I’ve finally deigned to say the g-word, haven’t I?

I tell you, Andrew and Eric and Leonard, I don’t believe in this kind of devil, either, or in this kind of universe. I’m sure all of them will be disappointed to hear it. I laugh again, and I’m sorry, this is not funny. Not in the least.

I tell you, Andrew and Eric and Leonard, I don’t believe any of this is right anymore. I mean, I never believed it was right or moral, but I thought it had to happen to save the world, no matter what. Now I don’t. I am done trusting the process.

Eric tells Andrew that he should listen to me. That they should take me with them.

I am going to say that after we find the truck, I’ll go with them to the police and tell them everything about our four and the kidnapping and admit to all the crimes perpetrated here, even though I know I will not live long enough to speak to anyone who isn’t already in this cabin. I am going to tell them this and more, but Eric and Andrew fall into a shockingly ferocious argument and they ignore me.

I pick up the staff at my feet, the one Redmond custom made for me, the one with a function that was never explained but was wordlessly obvious, and it feels right in my hands and it feels so wrong I’d be happy if someone cut my traitorous hands off so I could never hold it again. I return to the darkness in the valley, and I’m alone and flowing away in the nothingness, and I’m alone in the cabin and the presence in light or whatever you, Eric, tried to explain to me is nowhere to be found. There’s no light. There never was. There’s only emptiness and lack and void and it all explains why the world is the way it is and I would scream if I could. Andrew, you’re pleading with Eric to stop listening to me, to consider that I might be lying about the keys so I can ambush you, that it should be so obvious I can’t be trusted. And, Eric, you’re telling Andrew to let me help, that you believe me and you need me to find the keys, you need me to get out. I run across the room on feet that do not feel the floor. The curlicued blade is raised over

my head like a banner, a flag, an emblem of death, sorrow, and never-ending violence. Andrew, you tell Eric that you’re leaving now and you’re not taking me with you. Eric, you see me sprinting across the room, but you don’t warn Andrew.

I swing the staff down like I’m aiming to split a log. My torso bends and my legs squat autonomically so the full force and weight of my body is behind the strike. The edge of the blade smashes into Leonard at the top of his head with a wet smack and a chunky thud. I’m brought back from the nothing so I can feel the impact reverberate through my hands and arms. Leonard screams, high pitched and algorithmic, his damaged brain stuck on a wailing siren setting. The shovel blade has sunk into his skull and I anchor a foot on his lap for leverage to help pull it out. Leonard convulses and thrashes about and his screams are now a dying prey animal’s desperate and betrayed squealing. I finally work the shovel free and then I swing it horizontally and I swing it madly, sending the warped blade into his face and his neck, again and again. And at the end of it, I’m all me. I am swinging the weapon and I hit him as hard as I can until he isn’t screaming or moving.

I pitch the staff behind Leonard. It bounces once and plows into the end table with the yellow-shaded lamp, which tumbles and crashes to the floor. I tell you, Andrew and Eric, I’m sorry.

I will never pick up that weapon again. This, at least, has been promised to me. Leonard’s face is unrecognizable as having once been a face. His white shirt is only white in spots. I am dizzy but not dizzy enough to be on the floor, but that’s where I am now, on my hands and knees. I pull out his mesh mask from his back pocket and stuff it in mine. Going for the mask is as inexplicable as it is instinctual. Then I root around under Leonard’s chair. I find a tooth and I twitch and flick it away as though I’d accidentally picked up a poisonous spider. Drops of warm blood drip from Leonard onto my head, neck, and arms. I cough and wretch and keep searching the floor until I find the remote control for the television.

I stand up behind Leonard. My limbs are tremulous from overexertion, like I’d just finished a hard workout. Leonard’s hair is matted and dark with blood and mashed scalp. I tear up, but the tears aren’t for him, not really. Andrew and Eric gawk at Leonard and then at me. I am sorry for your blank, blood-sweat-and-tears-stained faces. I am sorry for everything. Eric

looks at me like I’m about to give an answer. Andrew lifts and lowers the sledgehammer weapon indecisively, moving it like a clock’s pendulum.

I wipe each hand on my jeans, careful to swap hands with the remote and not drop it. As my arm raises on its own, a mechanical arm full of wires and gears that function and perform their duties in secret, I tell you, Andrew and Eric, I have to turn the volume on but you don’t have to listen and you don’t have to look at the screen, either. My thumb unmutes the TV without having to search the bloodied remote for the correct button.

On the terrible screen, the one always filled with apocalypses big and small, breaking news has already interrupted the bird flu program. On the terrible, awful screen is the smoking wreckage of an airplane. The smoke is thick and the deepest black, a writhing toxic column that billows and expands into a cloud, a mass, a tumor in the sky. Quick cut to an aerial shot of the crash site and debris is scattered in the grassy field like confetti. Quick cut to another wrecked plane cratered in the middle of another field. There is more black smoke, and within its hypnotic undulations I know there is a message. Then a cutaway to another downed plane, its pieces floating in an ocean only a few hundred feet offshore. The plane’s tail section is intact and breaches the surface like the fin of a leviathan. Silver panels from the fuselage bob serenely in the blue waves. If left alone they will sink, and I imagine them becoming part of a reef, a habitat, a new ecosystem, but of course that won’t happen. Life isn’t the promise.

Eric stands and backs away from the couch so he can better see the television. He still has Wen in his arms. The paper-towel pad taped to the back of his head hangs loosely and is about to fall off. He says what Leonard said yesterday: the skies will fall and crash to the earth like pieces of glass, and then the final, everlasting darkness will descend over humanity.

I want to tell you, Eric, to stop saying the words Leonard said. They are not Leonard’s words to begin with. The four of us were given them and you cannot trust who gave them to us. I want to tell you, Eric, to ignore the words and the planes and the blood. I want to lie to you, Eric, and say that you and Andrew can leave the cabin and everything will be all right.

I tell you, Andrew and Eric, we should leave now. We shouldn’t spend one more second in this place. I don’t tell you I am the last of the four and I am next and it will be a relief when it happens. Maybe the truth is the end has already been happening long before we arrived at the cabin and what

we’re seeing, what we’ve been seeing, is not the fireworks of the world’s denouement but the final flickering sparks of our afterword.

The commentator says they have confirmation of as many as seven airplanes having crashed without warning, without issuing distress calls, amid fears and increasing speculation there may have been a coordinated cyberattack on the planes’ flight management systems. TSA has yet to issue a statement. Airports around the globe are canceling flights—

Andrew swings the sledgehammer, punching a hole in the middle of the television screen. The hole is as black as the smoke spewing from the planes.

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