Prose Header

The Singularity of Louisa Lindsay

by Steve Bates

Part 1 appears
in this issue.


Louisa locked the bedroom door from the inside and pushed against it with all her might.

“Open up, goddammit!” ordered her husband as he pounded his fist.

“I don’t want to!” she cried. The seconds ticked away without purpose, exhaustion consuming the young bride. Sighing, she unlocked the door, closed her eyes and braced herself.

For a while she had tried hiding in the basement, but Stanley always knew where to find her. Many nights, after dinner, she snuck out to the library or the nail shop or even a yoga class. One or two calls and he was there to bring her home.

She begged Lester for help.

“You’re always thinking of yourself,” her brother said. “Think about Stanley. You have to take care of his needs. You have to obey him.”

She fashioned one final strategy.

“You know why you married me,” Stanley said, leering broadly, as he unzipped her dress, let it fall and grabbed her roughly. “Because no other man would have you.”

She trembled but didn’t respond. It might have been true. It didn’t matter.

Stanley had his way with Louisa, but she was not really there. She was somewhere dark and peaceful. Very dark. And very alone.

* * *

The disappearance of Pluto resurrects the arcane debate over whether the distant rock had been a real planet or a dwarf planet. But that topic is forgotten as soon as Neptune vanishes from the solar system.

Mysterious Uranus is next. Then Saturn, delicate rings and all. Could noble Jupiter escape the same fate? At 11:10 pm on a Thursday, Hawaii time, the last light rays ever reflected off of its colorful clouds fade to black in the lenses of the massive W.M. Keck Observatory telescope.

“Scientists have determined that the epicenter of the phenomenon is on Earth, likely somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States.” The news anchor’s face is knotted with unfeigned concern. “However, the government is asking citizens not to panic.”

“Hello. Can somebody help me?” Louisa is standing at the 7-Eleven counter with a couple of cartons of ice cream. The store’s two employees are glued to the television, which normally displays security camera views. About fifteen people stand in line behind Louisa, arms and carts overflowing with water, milk, meat, bread, chips, beer and pet food. Outside, cars and pickups stretch a quarter-mile down the road waiting for their turn at the gas pump.

Now a scientist is being interviewed on TV. “These outer planets are no longer visible and must be assumed to be lost.” He is standing in front of a map of the solar system and is drawing white circles around the affected spheres. “If the trend were to continue, the asteroid belt would be next—”

“I said hello, I want to pay for these. My ice cream is melting,” declares Louisa. Some mild grumbling of support wafts from behind her. But the customers are afraid to make waves; no one wants to leave empty-handed. The TV drones on.

“Turn off that crap and help me,” Louisa demands.

While keeping her eyes fixed on the screen, the manager, a petite woman with a red baseball cap and ponytail, extends her right middle finger directly in front of Louisa’s face.

* * *

Lester took a seat in the parlor and straightened his shiny badge. He had never made it past deputy sheriff, yet the 56-year-old bachelor had found his comfort zone. He especially enjoyed cruising in his late-model squad car, grinning at those less powerful as he passed them. Louisa’s television set depicted rain drizzling on the new president’s inauguration. She was not watching.

“Louisa, why haven’t you paid your taxes?”

“That no-good ex-husband of mine is supposed to pay them. That’s in the divorce papers.”

“That may well be, but he isn’t sending a cent, and we can’t find him. So it’s your responsibility.”

“It’s not my problem.”

“Don’t you understand? If you — if somebody — doesn’t pay the taxes, the county will sell your farm and you’ll be forced to leave.”

Her father’s scorn, her husband’s abuse and her brother’s betrayal coalesced into a single blow that rattled her to the core. The room seemed to shrink as Louisa’s eyes narrowed and her jaw jutted.

“This... is... my... house!” she thundered. She closed her eyes and marshaled energy from every corner of her being to banish every thought, every possibility, of anyone and anything that would threaten her and all that was hers. Then she drifted into that small, lightless space that she had forged, the one safe place that was her very own. A refuge that was so real and so perfect that nowhere else was necessary.

One by one, the stars winked out.

* * *

Pick any channel. The news is all bad.

“Mass casualties are being reported at airports and train stations around the globe as desperate people arrive by the thousands hoping to join loved ones or reach an underground shelter before the line of destruction reaches Earth. Stampedes and battles with riot police....”

“Dispatches from Asia and South America indicate that suicide cults have claimed tens of thousands of lives as residents anticipate the end—”

“U.S. officials would neither confirm nor deny widespread reports of an exchange of powerful nuclear weapons between—”

“Sail to oblivion! Bring five thousand dollars in cash to Norfolk harbor by 8:00 a.m. Tuesday for a Serenity Cruise Lines trip of a lifetime. Be the first to ride into whatever is coming, champagne flute in hand—”

A silent chill sweeps the planet. Cars, buses and trains roll to a stop. For an instant, no one moves. Then, slowly, dazed people exit their vehicles and homes and offices and scan the sky. They search for the spot where the sun so recently blazed, desperate to believe that it is all just a mistake, that Earth’s sole source of light and warmth will somehow return and all will be well.

Astronomers soon determine that Mercury, Mars and Venus have joined the missing. In the inky panic, almost no one notices the subsequent loss of Earth’s closest companion a mere quarter-million miles away. The few remaining stars twinkle faintly, ancient ghosts mocking the dying.

* * *

He steps out of his car warily, glancing from side to side like a hostage departing a plane. The world is eerily quiet; not a bird or insect can be detected. Flashlight in hand, he picks his way to Louisa’s front door. He knocks but gets no response. After a few moments, he steps inside.

She is seated in the parlor. He sinks into the musty couch across from her.

“It’s time,” Lester says. “You have to go now, Louisa. I have an order from the judge.”

She acts as if she does not hear him. Or as if she does not know that he is there. He shines the flashlight in her face. Her focus is far away. She doesn’t even blink.

He turns off the flashlight. Two candles imbue the room with a sepia tint. He feels like he has entered a mausoleum.

“Are you hearing me?”

She remains silent.

“Louisa, part of Asia vanished this morning. The world is collapsing. And it’s centered — the scientists say there is something terrible going on right here in central Virginia.” His voice gets real high and cracks.

“Do you know anything, anything at all, about this? Could you...”

He feels bile rising in his throat and air rushing out of the house. His chin quivers as he searches for words to match his fears.

“It... it is you, isn’t it?”

Her chest rises and falls rhythmically, each breath exuding serenity. She turns her head slightly left, then right. She stares past him again, expressionless.

“Louisa, for the love of God! If you have any feelings for me or for the rest of humanity, you have to stop this. The world doesn’t revolve around you.”

The candlelight dances in her irises. He realizes his mistake. “I’m sorry, so sorry about everything,” he grovels. “I can be a better brother. I can make it up to you. Please.”

“Too late,” she whispers.

The candles sputter as the oxygen thins. Static crackles. The ceiling and walls begin to shimmer, and then they are gone. There’s just two couches, a patch of floor, a small rug and the two of them.

He gets on his knees before her, fighting for breath, hands clasped in supplication. “Please bring back everything... and come with me.”

Lester vanishes. Next, the floor is gone, then both of Louisa’s legs. She feels no pain, only a mild tingling. Her midsection fades, followed by her chest and neck. All that remains is the head of Louisa Lindsay, surrounded by pure nothingness. There’s no Cheshire cat smile, no expression at all, as her face shrinks to a point, like a tiny star.

It burns very brightly for one long moment. And it winks out.

Copyright © 2018 by Steve Bates

Proceed to Challenge 792...

Home Page