Friday, August 28, 2020

Fiction Friday: Children of Earth

Children of Earth

When the world ended, the heavens parting, most of us expected those looking down on us poor children of Earth would weep.

None of us expected them to laugh.

The world ended, pretty much like we suspected it would, nuclear powers planting fields of mushroom clouds across the globe. I lived in a smaller city, one small enough for the lunatics to let fission resolve old slights to ignore.

That meant I got to listen to the world being torn apart.

Scared voices over long-range radio connected me to the world, the web that was supposed to unite us torn apart, too many of its gossamer links severed. The confusion of the bombings was fresh, and all I knew was being passed second-hand from radio stations near Syracuse. New York went first, before Washington, and well before Albany, which the reports were saying was an internal strike.

In the middle of mankind tearing itself apart, the sky parted. Maybe the heavens decided to wait for the perfect moment, dust and ash covering the whole world in clouds and shadows.

Then, the clouds parted. Always right over your head. No matter how big a crowd you were in, you stood in your own beam of light. 

Things stopped. How could they do anything else? The clouds above you part, you look up and see a deep blue sky. And you felt the Presence watching you.

I looked into that dept and saw every bad thing I'd ever done. Every regret, every mistake, every time I'd ever hurt someone else. I knew I wasn't perfect, but damn, it hurt to face all of it. There was a mistake from every day of my life; bouts of stupid, childish anger I told myself I'd outgrown. I broke, sinking into my chair, crying. Most of us did; the ones who didn't? They were the ones you always suspected never felt regret. Ten billion people examined under the microscope of their sins.

I never believed in a higher power, but in the Presence, I wondered if the more outlandish notions I'd discarded of the end of days was right. If God judged every man, woman, and child.

Only... The result of your life being picked apart, examined to the smallest detail, and judged unworthy wasn't supposed to be God and all his angels would laugh at your misery. 

It started when I recalled the pain and isolation of my childhood, a slight chuckle as I made the mistake that sent me rolling onto the street, ending up in the hospital. Memories of awkward high school fumbling started to turn the occasional chuckles into giggling. I didn't make it to twenty before all I could hear was a chorus of scornful laughter.

The cacophony didn't stop when the memories did, like any sort of infectious laughter in a group of like-minded people, it took several minutes to die down. 

I was one of the sitters, who found a chair or bench to slump into as the memories whirled in your head. Slumped in my couch, my eyes fixed on the tear in the sky until the laughter subsided. I got unsteadily to my feet as the silence of a subdued city came back to my ears, walking over to my window to see the people who'd been caught out in the street looking around dazed.

None of us understood what happened as we looked at the faces of the people around us, we shared a moment. It had just happened to them, as well. In that moment of kinship, we took our first step over the boundary to the new world.

Our next step came after the voice. Deep, like the voice of a mountain, you could hear the barely reserved amusement as it spoke, "We'd like to thank you all so much for being a great source of entertainment. We just wanted to make sure we got everything before it ended. You can go back to finishing each other off now."

The clouds rolled back, and once again, we looked around at the people around us. The looks of wonderment had faded, leaving only the raw edges. 

We stopped killing each other. Old grudges didn't matter anymore, we had something more powerful uniting us. We didn't know what the Presence was. We didn't know where it came from. We didn't know where or if it was gone. 

We didn't all agree on what we wanted. Some people wanted revenge; to kill the thing that humiliated them so thoroughly. Some people wanted answers; were our entire lives a joke?

Humanity agreed on one thing: we needed to find them first.

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