The reservations were going to be wasted, but there was no helping that. It was a good thing he hadn’t mentioned them to Kitty. She would be at home right now dolling up, excited to have a break from the boxed dinners and shoe-string meal plans.
Jasper drug himself down the busy city street. His hand loosened his tie with a series of merciless yanks, hating the way the tie felt. Too tight. Everything felt too tight, constricting. One hand was in his pocket, fingering the loose change there. He had crumpled up his resume’ while he was still inside Danworth and Mitchell’s lobby; he hadn’t bothered to throw it away. Let it sit on the buffed tile floor. The janitor would see to it; that man had a job.
He moved forward with his head down, not really thinking or hearing or caring. This had been his millionth interview. Ever since the Great Recession, it seemed like all of his degrees weren’t worth the paper they were printed on. He hated the hopeful gleam in Kitty’s eyes every time he went out. The pressure of that hope made it hard for him to breathe. And day after day; when he returned with this beaten expression, that hope briefly winked out, and looking in her eyes was like looking into a dark room.
What he hated the most was when that gleam vanished, when he felt like less than a man.
“Flee! Flee before the rising terror. Hear this final call and turn your heart from evil!” a man was crying out.
Jasper looked for the voice, realizing that he had been hearing the man’s crazy words for more than a minute. Jasper stopped; he stood in the middle of the sidewalk while people instinctively routed around him. Everyone was bundled in heavy coats and scarves. Jasper barely felt the winter cold.
“It is the end!” the man yelled out. “Death is no longer waiting at the door. He’s letting Himself in!” The man was dirty. His hair was stringy and slick with grease. His coat had patches on it, holes. His brown beard had thick bands of white. When the man began to belt out his warnings, Jasper saw his gums and the remains of stained teeth. The man had the intensity of madness, and Jasper couldn’t help but think how easy his life must be. Stress free. Grab a street corner and yell at the world. How easy it would be to end this life and start that one.
Jasper slowly continued forward. Dim sunlight reflected off the windshields of all the passing vehicles. Tall art deco buildings gave the street a claustrophobic feel, and a sense of how small he really was.
“And the Earth will shake, the monuments made by men will crumble, from Hell a thousand beasts will emerge. And for the few, God will send his angles. Call out now. REPENT!” the man said. As Jasper passed, the man looked at him; their eyes met. “Do you know the cost of death?” Fog plumed from his dry mouth.
Jasper moved on like you’re supposed to. Never stand near the crazy or the wild. Like animals, they may bite.
He stopped next to a magazine kiosk. Economic Collapse ran across the Conception Gazette’s front page. Despair growing was in smaller letters. “New’s flash,” he said to himself. He looked at the busy street and the rising tails of exhaust, feeling what the paper had named. Each step closer to home added pounds to the weight on his back. A home that he didn’t think they could hold onto. They had tapped out what credit they had, borrowed from family and then from friends. There wasn’t a drop left to squeeze out. All of their insurance policies were going to lapse. Hopefully the kids didn’t get sick. And if anything happened to him, they’d be on their own. Except for the life insurance, and that would lapse in three weeks.
Do you know the cost of death?
Jasper didn’t, but he knew that he could do more for his family dead than alive. He had a million dollar policy. No more food donations or clothes charities. No going without a phone or lights for a month while necessities were juggled. No more looks of disappointment or that eerie silence. He could do it, he told himself. It would be quick. It would be more than he had done for his family in over a year.
Jasper walked to the street, tottering on the curb. One quick step was all it would take. He saw a city bus coming. Something with that much mass had to be fatal, and quickly. Was he desperate enough to really do it? Tending forward, he thought that—
The ground violently shook. It lasted for over three minutes. Cars crashed. Glass from broken windows showered the street. Chunks of concrete and stone fell. People were screaming. Jasper had fallen between two stopped cars. His head took a hard blow. When he stood, blood was running from a cut in his brow, down his face.
“Oh god,” he said.
The street was destroyed. Water was shooting up, fissures ran through the crumbled street, cars were half in sinkholes, some were gone. Smoke from fires stood up like pillars, lifting to the turbulent sky above. Jasper watched the clouds begin to spin, creating a dark vortex. Purple lightening jumped within the clouds.
“It’s here, it’s here!” the madman shouted, delighted. He fell to his knees on the roof of a car and opened his arms to the sky.
Jasper watched in horror as two giant hands tore the vortex wider, and winged creatures descended in hordes on the city. “Oh, god.” And from below, out of the cracks, began to emerge the clawed reach of unspeakable beasts.