Mere seconds ago, I finished reading the last of the fiction contest submissions. Only five finalists (including this one) remain. The tension is building!
Today's story, by pyromist, interests even a godless ex-Catholic like me. See what you think.
You Don't Know Me
"Sir! Sir, could I have just a moment—"
The voice was muffled as it came through the car’s window. The overweight driver glared through the tinted glass at the speaker with irritation; not specific annoyance, aimed at anything in particular, but just the kind that says 'I'm not having a good day and you aren't helping'. He had to squint against the ray of early-morning sunshine that was flooding through a gap in the clouds and reflecting off his window, heating his car and causing sweat-stains that had already begun to spread across the sides of his collared shirt and bead under his walrus moustache.
The sight that greeted his eyes wasn't welcome at all: some random guy, standing by the side of the road clutching a cheap paper bible to his chest with one arm. He cracked his window open grudgingly, just enough for the evangelist to hear him growl, "No. Fuck off, okay?" He rolled the window of his sedan back up before the young man could say a word, and glared straight ahead, pointedly ignoring the person standing by his car. Interminable seconds ticked past, each one more embarrassing than the last, and the man with the moustache squirmed, feeling a tiny tickle of guilt. He was just on the verge of giving up and speaking to the young man (still patiently waiting, he noted out of the corner of his eye) when the traffic signal ahead of him turned green. With a sigh of relief, the commuter roared off at once, not bothering to look back.
Traffic streamed past, the cacophony of morning on a busy road punctuated with muted roars and the occasional backfiring of a badly-maintained motor. Forty-five seconds ticked past, calmly noted by the young man who still stood on the street corner. A breeze tugged at one corner of the tan trench coat he wore to ward off the early autumn chill already in the air; the coat flapped lazily around his knees once or twice, then stopped as the gust subsided.
Next to him, traffic slowed, and then stopped reluctantly: the flow of businesspeople suddenly halted by the simple color of a red light.
"Excuse me, Madam. Can I please speak with you for a few seconds?"
She was applying makeup using her rear-view mirror, apparently completely engrossed in this vital task; but she took the time to open her window. "Yes?" she snapped, not even bothering to look up as his shadow fell across her.
"Do you know much about the Apocalypse, Madam?" he asked politely.
"What, the end of the world? What does it matter?" she asked brusquely, twisting to inspect one corner of her mouth. She pursed her lips, wiping off a smudge of lipstick only she could detect, then nodded. Screwing the top back onto the tube of scarlet makeup, she deigned to give the young man a brief glance. "Well? Make it snappy. I haven't got all day!"
He blinked, cornflower-blue eyes unreadable, then smiled. He was tall (definitely over six feet), of indeterminate age (though he didn't look that old), and somewhat gangly; but when he smiled, she suddenly felt an urge to make him do it again. It was almost as if, for a second or two, his smile had made the world a better place. "Well, ma'am -- I think maybe you should read up on it." He thrust the Bible he had been holding at her, through the half-open window, and she took it automatically, her eyes fixed on that smile.
She hesitated, but dropped it carelessly onto the passenger seat beside her. "All right, if you say so." She sniffed, then snapped the clasp on her purse open and extracted a powder puff. Dabbing it onto her face, she peered at her reflection in the mirror once more. He opened his mouth again, but the light turned green, and she left without another word. One of her hands was still clutching the edge of puff, and it bobbled absurdly in the wind from her open window.
Traffic burst past, a dammed stream suddenly allowed to resume flowing. He watched it go, the corners of his eyes crinkled. He grabbed another Bible from a small cardboard crate filled with them, which stood open by his feet, and turned to watch absently as the cars moved past. Green light... then yellow, then red.
This time, the old man driving the equally old green minivan rolled down his window before the young man could open his mouth. The driver's eyes flashed to the Bible, and then he grinned broadly -- sardonically. "Let me guess, hmm? The Apocalypse is coming. When will it be, now? Next Tuesday? Oh wait, that's nonsense; what am I thinking, insulting your beliefs? It's tomorrow, at 12:43 AM, right?" His slow, southwestern drawl matched his mannerisms perfectly. He paused to shake his head, the seams on his leathery face wrinkling as he sighed with mock-sadness. "Well, lemme tell you, kid: Nobody believes in that stuff anymore, okay? We're just too rational and scientific for your mythological crap to work on us. Nice try, but you might as well give it up." He snorted, then opened his mouth to say some more; but the light turned green. He nodded to the young man, who hadn't had time to say a single word, and drove off.
Green... yellow, red. The young man took a deep breath, and tried again. He wouldn't give up -- couldn't give up. The stakes were just too high. "Excuse me…"
That evening, a light, misting drizzle was falling, just enough to cover everything with a slick sheen of polluted water. The garish neon lights of the city reflected off the thin film of liquid, turning everything into a matching set of dark shadows defined only by rainbow-colored outlines and reflections.
The young man sighed, turning up the collar of his coat and shoving his hands into its pockets. The crate of Bibles still sat at his feet, and it was still nearly full. He'd made an attempt at protecting the thin pages from the rain by covering the box with a plastic bag, but the rain still seeped in through the cracks and around the corners. By now, a good two hours after the end of the evening rush, the streets were almost deserted; it was a working night, after all, and most of the people were staying indoors on a night like this. A car or two rushed past, splashing through puddles and sending the liquid flying in a million rainbow-edged droplets; but he was essentially alone. And those who did get stopped by the light were refusing to talk to him, invisible in the darkness behind tinted glass. There was no point in staying here any longer.
Not many people had believed the young man when he told them of the impending Apocalypse. Oh, they thought he was a nice-enough sort, and he had the most gorgeous smile; but really, the Apocalypse? Please.
The problem was, of course, that he was actually telling the truth. But what could he do about it? He was just one person amongst the throng in New York City, just one person trying to spread the word. And they were too rational now; they'd met too many false 'prophets', been lied to too often for them to believe him now. How was he supposed to explain that he was right? That he knew beyond all doubt, because... He shook his head. What was the use?
He bent and scooped up the box of Bibles, gripping the damp cardboard carefully. Almost as if he was holding something precious, not just a box full of cheap paper. Head bent, the angel walked off slowly through the rain, the only figure moving on the empty freeway.
Based on "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," by Green Day
Intrigued? Irritated? Thinking about the zombie apocalypse?
Leave your reactions in the comments, and come back tomorrow, when the countdown continues!
Topics: musical fiction contest