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Until The End of the World

by LUCINDA M GUNNIN 5 months ago in Horror
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Forever and Ever

Until The End of the World
Photo by Luke Jernejcic on Unsplash

The silence is intrusive, eerie as we walk around the property. The normal buzz from the highway, just a quarter mile away, is gone, replaced by nothing.

I thought I had heard the sounds of nothing before, high on a mountaintop in the warmth of summer, but today the silence is neither friendly nor calming. The locust in the grass and the crows in the sky are gone, death overtaking my strip of land as it did the rest of the world. The scraping of our shoes on gravel seems loud.

The truth be told, we should be hunkered down inside, using concrete and steel walls to block the flow of the radiation, but the sickness will set in soon, perhaps today. As a teenager, I swore that when I saw the mushroom clouds I would drive toward them, ending it as quickly as possible rather than hold on and suffer the sickness. Now, we are out here in the open the day after the attack, but not driving toward the city.

Perhaps that was the bravado of the 1980s, so close to nuclear holocaust and yet, we defied it, pretended that mutually assured destruction was the answer to keeping us all safe from the bombs we built to destroy nations. Now that it is real, he and I are not so eager to brave the highways to rush to the destruction.

As we walk, we talk about the mundane, like the hundreds of times we have walked this lot, our pinkies joined in a personal expression of our love. This will be the last of the pinky snuggles. The radiation sickness has begun to set in, though we both try to deny it, claim it is nothing more than a fall cold or the flu.

I am lost in my thoughts as we approach the first storage building, looking at the list of inhabitants. Some we reject immediately, knowing that they don’t have what we are looking for. We begin in the climate-controlled storage. With the power out, even in the early morning light, the building is dark, so we switch on the flashlights.

Unit #3 is first on our agenda, rented by a pharmaceutical sales representative. One of the products she sells is morphine. We open the lock, this one we have the key to, no need for the bolt cutters just yet. A quick inventory reveals that the morphine will get us through the worst of the sickness. Well, it will get me through at least. He is allergic to morphine; it will do nothing to ease his pain.

The plan is simple; we discussed it briefly, so many things unspoken, a result of twenty years together. It was decided over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches this morning, a passable breakfast during the power outage.

“I can’t bear to watch them all die. I can’t bear to watch you die,” I said, and he nodded. He’s told me something similar for years, begging me to take care of myself.

“We don’t have anything to end it,” he said, quietly.

“Maybe there are tools outside.” The fear was gone as I spoke, understanding that our choice simply accelerates the process, prevents the pain.

***

Last night, the world was right. The sky was clear and the stars were brilliant. We relaxed and laughed, snuggled on the sofa, reading our favorite books. The sirens began just before midnight.

My first reaction was to grab my laptop and check the weather forecast. The night seemed clear but freak storms were not unheard of in Illinois. The forecast was still clear.

Then, the crawling red line across the top of my local newspaper’s website caught my eye: “Latest News: Pentagon Confirms Nuclear Missiles Inbound.”

I dropped the computer.

He turned, beginning to yell, to tell me to be more careful. Then, he saw the look on my face. I wanted to sob, to cry out at the unfairness of at all. Instead, silent tears slid down my cheeks.

“They said it could never happen. They were working on disarmament,” I mumbled, numbly. “Why did they elect that lunatic?”

He was brilliant, as always, understanding immediately. He looked at his own laptop in horror.

In times of great personal tragedy, my mind seems to shut down, to deny the reality of it. I had brief moments, seconds really, of trying to form some sort of hasty plan in my mind. Some way to save us from the fallout, radiation rain and the burning sun after the atmosphere melted away. The numbness kept the desperation at bay while I searched for a logical solution.

The armory, at the airport, has a fallout shelter.

It took only a few seconds for my rational mind to eliminate that idea. The shelter would be used for local military personnel and everyone in the county would be trying to get there.

There are fallout shelters at the university.

The university is 20 minutes away and the news says the bombs will hit in 15 minutes. I argued with myself for the time it takes to think and then looked at him. I could see from the suffering on his face he had reached the same conclusions.

“Maybe it’s only one, a malfunction,” I whispered hopefully.

He shook his head. ‘They’re tracking one they think will hit either St. Louis or maybe Scott Air Force Base. At best, 200 miles from here,” he said. “There are dozens of them coming.”

The first nuclear test, Trinity, rattled windows 200 miles away and people there heard the explosion. Modern warheads are up to 100 times more powerful. We wouldn’t be caught in the initial blasts, but the radiation sickness would probably be on us by morning.

“We could grab the cat, some food and water and go to the climate-controlled building, get away from the windows and the leaky insulation,” I offered, knowing it would only buy us a day or two.

“Do you want to spend our last hours cowering in fear?” he asked. He knew that I would say no, but he offered it just the same. He always offered me a choice, even when he had another preference and even when he knew what my choice would be. In all our years together, he had never assumed to know how I felt, though it seemed he always did.

We spent the next ten minutes in relative silence, agreeing without words to do what needed to be done. Quickly I prepared what would likely be our last warm meal, just some grilled cheese sandwiches and oven fries. He added extra blankets to the bed expecting it to be cold once the power went out and lit the candles on the table. I opened a can of tuna fish and gave it all to Killer, our beloved cat. He deserved a final meal too.

We were sitting at the table, sipping sweet red wine and recounting our favorite memories when we saw the flash from the explosion like sheet lightning out the windows. I think we both held our breath, waiting for the sound to come crashing across the Illinois plains. It arrived, accompanied by a trembling, like a small earthquake, and the rattling of the windows. The electricity flickered and then went dark. I presumed the power plant closer to the city was hit by the electromagnetic pulse or perhaps the transmission lines were flash fried in the explosion.

Once the shaking stopped, we got up and went to the window, perhaps out of habit to make sure all the power was out. The night was clear and still, with a glow of firelight on the western horizon. We weren’t expecting the second flash off to the east.

“The nuclear plant in Paducah?” I asked.

“Makes as much sense as any of this,” he said as we braced ourselves for the shockwave which would come faster and be stronger. That plant was less than 100 miles away.

We finished our wine and strolled hand in hand to the bedroom, to hold each other and make love gently one last time. I awoke a couple hours later to hear Killer mewling in pain. His beautiful grey fur was falling out in clumps and his cries seemed to come between his coughing and retching.

The tears I had been holding back finally broke free and I sobbed as I stroked his ears and tried to comfort him. “I love you, baby. I’m so sorry,” I whispered over and over. In the end, he curled up on my lap and laid his head on his paws. Just as he did every night before bed, he stared directly into my eyes and blinked slowly, telling me one last time he loved me too.

When he was gone, I laid him gently in his bed, where he sat every night to watch over me while I was sleeping. Then, I laid my head on his and sobbed for him, for all of us.

***

As we walked to the next storage unit we had selected, the unit of a soldier deployed to some foreign war zone, I smiled at the irony of it and railed again at the one who had been so insane to push the button, to curse all of mankind. It doesn’t really matter now, does it?

I thought last night that we should call our parents, our friends, but what would we say? Goodbye seemed so trite when the world as we knew it was ending. Even now though, I wondered, were others making the same decision we were? How many died in the initial blasts? Hundreds of millions? Billions?

For all I know, the other people I cared about might be dead already. The phone stopped working shortly after the blast. Who would call anyway? Survival alone likely weighed on their minds as it did mine, making the niceties of polite society seem a lifetime away. I guess it was.

We should try to go check on his parents, but even the short journey to Herrin is daunting in this heat. The sky and sun bright and brutal without clouds until the dust begins to gather. Soon, the temperatures will drop colder than anything I’ve ever known. If the car would run, we could try to drive to them, but I’m not sure if we got the affects of the EMP or not. Regardless, the highway is a mess as dozens of people were fleeing from the bombs in Missouri when the Kentucky bombs hit. As they rushed to get to the shelters, people went overland and over everyone else to get there. Still, abandoned vehicles clogged the highway.

Without speaking, we agree to ignore the car and all thoughts of other survivors, for today. We will leave behind for them what we can.

He understood my plan even before I finished speaking it: bring the bolt cutters to open the locks on two hundred storage units. I doubt we’ll make it all the way through them, but we’ll try. We’ll leave the doors unlocked so that whoever comes next has easier access to whatever supplies they can scavenge. Right now, we look for weapons to bring it all to an end.

I hear The Call ringing through my head. Buildings live and people die, war weary world…

We hope that the soldier or someone else has stored guns and ammunition. Otherwise, we will have to use the morphine to end it. We’d rather not use the drugs; someone in a better future might need them to go on living.

He rubs my back as I fall to the ground retching and then offers me a sip of bottled water when the dry heaves subside enough for us to continue. A few units later, I do the same for him.

We search a dozen or so units before we find them, two lovingly cared for shotguns and in another crate, a box of shells. Despite everything, I know that I will inflict one last pain on him, one last request that he will lovingly grant as it tears him apart. I won’t be able to shoot him or myself, not even knowing what’s coming. Logic and love should overcome the reticence, but I know I won’t be able to pull the trigger.

If life and love were fair, I’d shoot myself as he did the same, neither of us having to endure seeing the end of the other. Neither is fair.

I reach over one last time to take his pinky and then his whole hand in mine. “I love you,” I whisper, looking into the chocolate eyes that have thrilled my soul for so many years. He pulls me into his arms and for an instance, in the midst of silence and decay, I feel safe again.

“I love you forever and ever,” he starts and I finish, grinning through my tears, “even until the end of the world.”

Horror

About the author

LUCINDA M GUNNIN

Lucinda Gunnin is a commercial property manager and author in suburban Philadelphia. She is an avid gamer, sushi addict, and animal advocate. She writes about storage and moving, gaming, gluten-free eating and more. Twitter: @LucindaGunnin

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