Swing Low

by Catfish Russ


Laura pulled her backpack out of the car and waded up to the wrought iron gate. Her backpack was heavy. There was a lot of stuff in it. She reached into a cooler in the back seat and threw a few more things in the bag. There was a lot to do tonight.

She dug a key out. The wrought iron gate was completely covered in kudzu and overgrowth, which kept people away. She found the padlock, inserted the key, and pulled open the ancient wooden doors with a classic horror movie creak and groan. She pulled the gate open, then turned to drive the car through.

Her 1987 Honda Civic rattled to life, who knew how much longer this would be around? Well, she thought, I know exactly how long. Laura pulled the gate closed behind her, locked her car — what for? Huh? — and made her way through the darkening lot, covered in a canopy of Dutch Elm branches and willows.

A quarter mile up, inside this greenbelt enclave, was the old library that once served the town on Blankenshear. But the town grew in another direction and a busty old millionairess reclaimed her property and closed it up. The busty old millionairess was Laura’s great aunt, and this is why she was going to close it all out here in the old house tonight.

Off in the distance she could see the light from Boston. When she stopped moving she could hear the noise from Boston too. Yelling. Gunfire. Explosions. Sirens. Every once in a while it calmed down and then suddenly a huge explosion would drag her back to it.

In her bag was the second key and it was almost too dark to see the lock. She found it and opened her big oak front door. Behind her, on the side of the porch loomed a giant Cottonwood tree and wind sang through crackling branches.

Her footfalls were a quiet aside of groans and creaks of the old two-story Cape Cod. Most of the electricity to the house was out, her aunt had told her. The fridge in the basement works, but that’s it. And the toilets work, her aunt told her over her cellphone.

“So what are you going to do tonight?” she had asked her aunt.

But no response came back. She had just hung up.

Up on the second story was a secret balcony that sat under a large opening in the canopy cover provided by the trees. Above the canopy you could see the stars. And across the bay you could see the news rippling across an urban area.

The first thing she did on the balcony was open her bag and pull out a six-pack, still wet and cold from the cooler. She popped a beer and rooted around for her pot bag and found it. Laura opened the draw-string and set out a small bag of dry bud — the best — $400 a quarter ounce, and worth it.

She pulled a glass pipe out, and found a fresh screen. Laura pulled out her Swiss Army Knife and hooked out the old screen caked with residue. With her little finger she forced in the new screen and set the pipe down. Laura broke off a piece of the bud and crushed it into powder in the bowl of the pipe.

She found a Bic, lit up, drew in the stinky cloud, held it, exhaled, and sat while she felt her head start to float. And a smile crossed her face. Awesome, she thought and took a drag of her beer.

This was Laura’s way of saying screw everybody. She knew this was her worst habit. Just walking away when things didn’t go right. But what difference did it make anymore? Let everyone else spend tonight in agony.

Not me, Laura thought. Not me.

Somewhere down south, somewhere in the North Carolina research triangle, her sister lived with her two sons. Susan, divorced, should be home and the phone networks are holding up, Laura thought, perhaps a call would be in order.

Laura took another toke off her pipe and dug her phone out of her jeans. Holding the phone in her hands turned it on. It lit up her face. She spoke: Susan Tavares.

The phone dialed.

“Hello?”

“Sue?”

“HEY. Where are you? I miss you. I wanted to talk to you.”

“Guess.”

“Well, how the hell would I know where you are, Laura?”

Laura’s heart ached. It hurt a tiny bit, that last comment. She said, “On the secret balcony in Aunt Missy’s house.”

“She gave you a key?”

“You bet.”

“You dog. She always loved you special.”

“I know.”

“Are you getting stoned?”

“Who, me?”

“Of course. I don’t blame you. I’m having a scotch.”

“In front of the boys?”

“They’ve seen me drink. They’re down in the basement playing videogames.” Susan started crying.

“I love you, Susan.”

“I love you, too, Laura. I wish you were here.”

“Naw. I’m where I need to be.”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

“So what are you gonna do tonight?”

“What do you mean? Oh. A pill. The boys have pills too.”

“Are they scared?”

“Bobble has been asking me if we are still going to Disney next month.”

“Oh no.”

“Yeah. And he’s the older one.”

“How’s Daniel?”

“He seems OK. Perfectly normal.”

“That’s screwed up.”

“It’s all screwed up girl. It’s all screwed up. We had a chance years ago to address this, but no. The wingnuts said no... Christ is coming. It’s not a meteor. It’s GOD... Well, guess what??? It IS a meteor...”

By now Susan was crying pretty hard. She was slurring her words.

Must have been drinking for a while, Laura thought. “I know, Susan...”

“A damn BIG meteor... a hundred and twenty... two million metric... whatever...”

“A hundred and twenty-two million metric tons and 190 kilometers across by 67 kilometers by 59 kilometers...”

“I’m drunk already...”

“I’m stoned. Let’s see... it’s traveling at 122 thousand miles an hour and will strike the Pacific Ocean tomorrow morning at 2:10 a.m. Greenwich mean time.”

Laura could have gone on. She could have talked about the heat in the atmosphere that would set everything on the Pacific rim on fire. How the molten shards would form a massive steam cloud in the Pacific ocean and the angle of entry would actually allow the rock of ice and granite and gold to make contact with the ocean floor. Earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, fires, windstorms, and a nuclear winter of fire and ash would flatten and eradicate everything on Earth.

The conversation ended. A long pause sat between them. Finally Susan said, “The boys are supposed to take their pills by midnight. I feel like Magda Goebbels.”

“Better that than burn to death. Speaking of which, I only have like one matchbook left. Ironic how tonight I need fire.”

“Are you going to take something or will you just go stoned?”

“I have something.” She left it at that and reached into her bag to feel the gun again. There she felt it. It sat cold and hefty.

“Well Laura, I love you. I’m going to hang up and go downstairs and hang out with the boys.”

“Where”s Philip?”

“Probably with some whore. What do you think?”

“I think you’re right. I love you.”

Was it that they both hung up at the same time? Or did the network go down? Also the lights went out across the bay. She sat in the secret darkness and thought about the Chinese who had tried to land a thruster on the surface of the shard. But they miscalculated the rate of spin and one edge of the meteor batted away the vehicle.

The Russians set off a massive nuke and managed to make the shard fall even faster.

The U.S. project never got off the ground. Fundamentalists called it the End of Days. A Christian Nation terrorist group sabotaged the launcher. That was six years ago, when the window of opportunity closed.

Pagans call it Thor’s Hammer. NASA calls it G-61D.

Laura could see it in the sky. It was moving too subtly for her to notice how fast it was coming. It was a bright white shard, reflecting the sun off of its surface. It trailed a crystal-like snow that also glowed. The effect was a halo. Laura called it the Avenging Angel. The halo told her she was right. It was an angel all right.

Laura guzzled her beer and popped a second one.

Another explosion sounded in the distance.

She felt for the gun, decided against it, and reached into her pocket and found her pill. That was one national policy that the U.S. got right in the Dark Ages heralded by the Bush administration: a painless suicide pill for everyone.

The Fundamentalists could not stop this one. Even the wingnuts who laughed at scientists took heed when they heard how people would either be burned, or crushed, or trapped, or suffocated. Millions of Rapturites elected to take the pill for fear they might not be among the chosen.

She took the pill, washed it back with beer, and lit up her pipe. She lay back on a bench, used her backpack as a pillow, and watched the chariot a-comin’ for to carry her home.


Copyright © 2007 by Catfish Russ

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