“Dusk in nearly upon us,” slices my father’s commanding voice, through the balmy, mid-summer air. I perceive a quickening in the movements surrounding me and a tangible escalation of anticipation. Is it excitement they feel? We were getting closer, and tonight would have been the night. Our first significant contact. Deep within my belly, I feel nothing but dread, as time drags toward the moment he will realize. I have sabotaged it all.
A solitary bird, perched upon a fencepost, warbles her lonely melody, as we arrange for the evening’s event. Dark, swirling clouds loom in the distance. What once was ominous, is now a beacon of hope that our village’s prayers have been answered. As Dr. Turgy and Mrs. Cline erect long metal poles in a large circle, I watch their eyes wander to the chasm; where the earth had cracked and opened herself, creating an abyss of prospective answers. I avert my eyes, assaulted by a sudden pang of guilt. Life is so different now.
No one expected it to be quiet. The end of the world as we had known it, that is. We predicted cataclysm and disaster. The earth spewing vengeful lava perhaps, or plagues of pestilence and pain. Instead, it was silent. One day they were there, the next they were not. Seven long years ago, half of the world’s population vanished within an instant.
In time, we termed them the Selected. My mother was one of them, leaving a worn, heart-shaped locket, as the final remnant of her existence. The silver still held the heat of her bosom, when father, half awake, reached for his beloved wife, and instead grasped a chain, void of the vessel it had always adorned.
There seemed no rhyme nor reason to those chosen. At least, not in the beginning. But, you see, as time passed, the meaning of ‘apocalypse’ became truly relevant, and our misunderstanding of catastrophe and doom, was replaced by the word’s true definition. For an apocalypse, we came to discover, meant the revelation of great knowledge, a pulling back of the curtain, a disclosure of the highest truth. And we asked ourselves many questions. What precisely, did the Selected know? Was this apocalypse only for them? And where exactly had they vanished to? This became a primary obsession for us remaining ones. For some more than others, to be sure.
With them, went all electricity. Power grids across the world went down for good. And in a single moment, the modern conveniences of toaster ovens and televisions, became a thing of the past. There was no obvious reason. It was almost as though the electric life force of the Selected ones had been powering the world all along. And in their absence, the steady hum went flat.
As one can imagine, there were bouts of civil unrest, as us remaining ones scrambled to survive, while grieving the loss of our loved ones and of the only reality we had ever known. Many lives were lost in the chaos, as exposure, starvation, and violent crime became increasingly real obstacles, and our population was senselessly halved once again. But the looting and lawlessness were finally replaced by the human need for order, and the dire realization, that if any of us were to make it, we needed each other.
We had not forgotten the Selected. Despite our struggles, they were there in the forefront of our minds. Organized communities began to spring up. Many in the form of idolatrous cults, aimed toward better understanding the Selected. They began to dissect the habits and characters of those dearly departed, convinced that they held the keys to attaining an apocalyptic wisdom we all desperately desired. The Selected became their Saints. They became deities to be worshipped. Most groups believed that through mimicking the qualities and lifestyles of the Selected ones, they too could evaporate from this earth.
Despite the obvious disparity in the nature and lives of the Selected ones, each cult found the evidence they needed, in their own Selected brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and foes. And what resulted was the veneration of one extreme to another. Some cults devolved into hedonism, as they idolized Selected ones, who had lived lives based purely in earthly pleasure. Others sought strict asceticism, following the standards of the most disciplined Selected.
My father and I were somewhere in between. Our group was small and tight knit. Over the years, we learned to make it work, keeping casualties low and production high. Our community congregated on a large, abandoned farm, where we accumulated the necessary resources and knowledge to survive. We had a small number of livestock, developed systems for heat and clean water, and planted our first gardens. We learned to hunt and identify edible plants and berries. There were several existing buildings on the farm, and over time, additional dwellings were constructed. In many ways, life was simple and satisfying. But despite the tranquility of our surroundings, peace was hardly present in the hearts of our members, as they too, suffered from an unquenchable thirst for answers.
Our small village sought solutions in a unique manner. We held the firm belief, that the only way to find answers was through direct contact with the Selected themselves, in whatever realm or form they now existed. Our system of contact was inspired predominantly by two factors.
First, was the influence of Dr. Turgy, a respected member of our faction, who in his days before the world had changed, studied a phenomenon known as psychometry. The pseudo-science of psychometric study explored an extrasensory perception, accessible when in physical contact with historical objects. In other words, he asserted that one could hold an item and gain accurate impressions about its previous owner. As though objects themselves retained energetic signatures imprinted through touch.
You see, when your entire world is turned upside down, the notions of logic and fixed reality become highly subjective. And while pre-apocalyptic Dr. Turgy would have sounded like a rambling lunatic, post-apocalyptic Dr. Turgy was seen as a man of reason and reliability. His ideas were reinforced by one mysterious coincidence. Every Selected person had left a single item behind. These became our keys to what lay beyond. They became our potential portals to an unperceived plane.
Over the next several years, I watched our community grow close. While I witnessed the intimate kinship forged through our shared battle for survival, my father had never felt more distant. He became single-minded about our objective and would stop at nothing to find her. He forbade me from holding her locket, convinced that my touch would interfere with my mother’s remaining imprint. It was locked away, except during ceremonies, when he alone would clasp his hands around the silver-encased, miniature photographs, in an effort to communicate.
For the first several years, I longed to gaze upon her image once more. To see her soft, doe eyes look up at me from her heart-shaped home, nestled next to a picture of my father. A younger and unhardened version of the man, who once adored me, and who now was blinded to my presence. His vision, set only on one taken from sight, seven years ago.
“Claire,” he would say, some evenings as we sat reading by the roaring fire.
“Yes?” I would respond eagerly.
“You know we’re going to find her, right?”
My face would fall every time, and I would prop up the pages to hide eyes that blinked back tears. “I know, father.”
“We’re going to find her, and we’re going to join her. Don’t you worry.”
And now, as the soft rumble of thunder touches our ears, worry is all I can do. Will he ever forgive me? Mr. Henderson arranges our chairs in a ring, with the chasm located in the center. As Dr. Turgy and Mrs. Cline raise the final rod, a gust of electric air sweeps through our space. Madelyn Hart stands next to the box, nervously wringing her hands, eager to distribute its contents. I recall the look of astounded awe that washed over her face the previous evening when our long-awaited sign was delivered.
Each of our twenty-one members had sat in that same circle, on every full moon, for longer than I cared to remember. We held the objects in our hands, at times, to our hearts, to our heads, or towards the heavens. When I say ‘we,’ I more accurately mean ‘they,’ for I never had the honor of holding an object. My father maintained the role of psychometrist for us both. Mr. and Mrs. Henderson took turns with little Tommy’s teddy bear. The one he had lovingly embraced as he slept that night years ago. Mrs. Cline clutched her husband’s wedding band. For Madelyn, it was the nightgown, found rumpled on the kitchen floor, as her sister had snuck a midnight snack.
Dr. Turgy would lead us through visualizations and breathwork. We closed our eyes, and were encouraged to see, to hear, to taste, to feel, to smell beyond our ordinary perceptions. What were the Selected trying to tell us? Many nights, we emerged tearful and inspired. While the others were convinced they had made contact, I was more inclined to admit we were merely dancing with memories. Though, a part of me feared their experiences were real. For what if they had spoken with the Selected? What if they finally learned the answers? What if those who held the objects, vibrated right off this earth? And I was left as a dot, in a circle of empty chairs.
Last night, my denial was shattered, when my father cried out in desperation. “Give us a sign,” he had bellowed. And like that, both heaven and earth cracked open. For the first time, in seven years, the old electric hum could be felt in the air. From above, a violent bolt of lightning lit up the night sky. The clouds crackled and popped, opening to pour pails of sparkling rain. From below, the ground shook, a rumbling which echoed the deafening clap of thunder. To our mutual astonishment, the earth fissured, creating a crevice, with the very same branches and veins as the striking lightning, directly in the center of our circle.
The others had danced in the rain, crying tears of gratitude. And when the excitement, had slightly subsided, we made our next plans. Everyone agreed, we needed the lightning. In his manic state, Dr. Turgy insisted it created a necessary force field that would magnify our potential to communicate. Our village had now placed full faith in this man and his methods, and we conjectured that it must be harnessed. We also maintained blind faith, that the lightning would return the next night, and conductive posts should be placed all around us.
Our members agreed we should place all Selected items in one location, keeping them near the newly formed crater, to prevent any disturbance to our circuit. Each object was placed in a metal box. The metal box, that Madelyn now pridefully guards. The metal box, that to only my knowledge, sits empty. For while the others attempted a few hours of sleep, I moved silently back to that spot. And I watched those items disappear, like the people they once had belonged to.
As we take our seats for this evening’s affair, the sky now dark, and the first flashes of a storm playing above, a shrill scream cuts like a knife. Madelyn holds the empty vessel for all to see, while murmurs and sobs erupt.
“I had to,” I whisper, as all eyes turn on me. They follow my gaze, which travels first to that infinite abyss as my admission of guilt and travel second to the weeping face of my father.
“Please,” I plead, with the same soft, doe eyes I had plunged deep into the chasm. “I’m still here, father.”