On February 14, 2015, 7:21 am, every cable and satellite program is interrupted by a breaking news broadcast of the Third World War. Headlines flash across an endless montage of chaos and devastation: footage of Iranian foot soldiers sweeping across a windswept desert and clashing with Israeli fighter jets; in the Pacific, North Korean battleships bombard the Japanese coastline and deploy ground forces onto the shores; a tremendous Chinese army surges through the Indian-Pakistan border; meanwhile, Russian helicopters swarm the European sky as paratroopers airdrop onto highways and tanks lumber through rubble-strewn streets; and in Jerusalem, smoke rises from battered domes and fallen spires as Israeli forces fend against an endless onslaught of Egyptians, Arabs, Syrians, and Turks. Ballistic missiles are launched and Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, and Tehran all lie in nuclear ruin.
“Every U.N. diplomatic peace mission has failed,” announces the paling anchorman, running a hand through his disheveled hair. Someone hands him another script and he reads it, then swallows hard and adjusts his collar. “I’ve just received news of Russian troops engaging a military base in Alaska.”
Next the President addresses the Union and attempts to pacify the nationwide panic. With a calm reassuring voice, he promises to keep the nation out of the war and explains his plans for negotiation. He dismisses rumors of a coming nuclear strike in downtown New York and urges the country to continue about their daily lives. He ends his speech, and as he steps from the podium the unsatisfied crowd uproars. The broadcast cuts to a degenerate scene of Congress, politicians hollering and arguing across the chamber, fist fights and grabbing each other’s ties.
That’s when Mike Smith turns off the TV.
Instantaneous silence settles over the living room. Mike stares blankly at the black screen, without a clue as to how he ought to feel.
Mike has been lounging on the couch all morning. In his entire life, Mike has never felt such an overwhelming urge to do absolutely nothing. He doesn’t even want to think. He sighs and tosses the remote aside and sinks deeper in his seat, tries to become the sofa. Mike feels utterly sedated, void. Outside the window, New York is carpeted by shale-gray overcast and several beads of rain drizzle down the glass. In the city, the furthest skyscrapers are shaded by mist. He sees the one with a red spire, the one he’s supposed to be working in right now, the one where everyone thinks he is at a doctor’s appointment.
He hates the silence. He stands up and putters through the apartment. Glass crunches under his feet. Mike looks down to discover he’d stepped on a photo frame lying on the carpet. He picks up the frame and studies it. In the photograph, he is at the park, in front of a tree, standing beside a brunette-haired young woman he does not know. Her grin is broad and genuine, and her eyes are glad. They are obviously young and happy together, perhaps even complete.
Today is Valentine’s Day.
Mike walks into the kitchen and is greeted by the sight of soup splattered on the wall and the shattered dish on the floor from earlier that morning. He fetches a wet cloth from the sink and begins to clean. It wasn’t his fault. That woman in the photo did it. It was supposed to be his breakfast, but she threw it at the wall. They argued, and she left promptly, because she was late for her flight.
An hour later Mike finds himself downtown at a crowded diner, sitting alone in a booth. He pays no attention to the television hanging over the counter, blaring omens of apocalypse, since nobody really cares about the plague of a faraway land. He ignores the stale coffee on the table, because after twenty years of drinking the shit, he realized it doesn’t make him happy. He pretends until he believes that he is alone, because joy is fakery.
The faint sound of cloven air perks Mike up from his thoughts. The conversation in the diner has bedded, eyes look out the window, fingers point, people mutter uneasily. He looks out the window to see for himself.
A tiny, bright flash like a star appears far off behind the Big Lots building across the highway, though it is much further than that. It swiftly bloats into a glowing orb and its light turns a fiery orange. An infernal crimson spreads over the whole sky and a rush like rising stormwinds or a coming train begins to rise, buffeting the building. Traffic slows, people begin parking, stepping out and watching. Everyone is filled with dread. A woman screams and a man curses the Russians.
Mike realizes he is doomed.
The distant glare emerges over the horizon, becoming a mushroom plume. Mike looks down to find his coffee rippling. There are no riots, no one is fleeing, everyone merely stands silently, awaiting the swiftly approaching death.
When the window and face of the diner rips inward as the shockwave arrives, for one brief moment, Mike is a disembodied mind, aware that his corpse has been vaporized, and he dissolves into the final lingering wish that he had said something else to his wife.
Lily Smith storms out of the house with her briefcase and an airline ticket to Chicago, hair barely kept, running eyeliner, smudged lipstick.
She’s finally had it with Mike. She threw all her fury in that argument, that she didn’t even remember what it was about. All she knew was that Mike would stay there, most likely call off work, and do absolutely nothing with his life. It was sickening living with such a lazy, unmotivated wretch. He’d given up on life. “Success doesn’t matter because I’m not a materialist,” was his excuse. But really, he was the most pathetic creature to scurry his disgusting crustacean form across town to the diner every day.
In the airport, as Lily walks down the jetway, she considers staying in Chicago. The thought continues to process as she walks down the aisle, takes her seat by the window, and as the plane speeds down the runway and lifts into the air. Looking out the small window, over the shrinking New York skyline that slowly fades from sight into the horizon, she knows she could easily pick up a Brandon or a Tom at the conference. Anyone, just anyone dark-haired and handsome, someone who Lily could share and grow her ambition with.
A sharp glare outside the window catches her eye and the plane suddenly goes into turbulence. Lily looks back out the window. A mushroom plume emerges among the skyscrapers, reaches out a thousand fiery arms in one deadly wall and spreads across the city, cleaning everything in its path into oblivion. A roar like thunder fills the plane and blood seems to be bleeding across the sky.
Mike’s favorite diner.
Lily claws on the window, her mouth wrenching open into some stupid silent pleas that finally find their way out as a scream.
Important Note: Because publishers will never accept a story that has already been posted on the internet, these stories will be taken down once I begin to submit them to magazines. So relish the read while you still can…