By R Brian Roser
Three …Two… One… Nothing
GodsPeaceWarrior checked his watch, only to remember that he had abandoned all his worldly possessions. He had given up most of them months ago along with his money, but the watch lasted until just before he left for the night. Tonight, all he wore, all he owned was the Sacred Blessed Shroud they had all donned for the professed Second Coming. You know, the one that was supposed to be happening sort of now-ish. They all looked around at each other. It was supposed to start. It was midnight right? He didn’t understand.
“Wait,” said someone in the crowd on Cadair Idris. “Is it summer time? Maybe it’s British Summer Time and that has to figure into the calculations of the prophesy.”
There was a susurrus of desperate agreement. Yes of course, there was no British Summer Time in the Bible so that wouldn’t be part of the noble leader’s calculations. It will be in an hour. Yes, that explained everything. GodsPeaceWarrior waited with his other brethren and sistren for the allotted time.
There was a moment when they thought they saw the light of an angel, but it was just an ATV heading down the mountain. Wait, down? They were the only ones up there; well, it didn’t matter. Since nobody had a watch on, it was a bit difficult to tell time with any certainty, but after a while it became evident to even the slowest thinking among them that something was wrong. The whispering started, which turned into a murmur, then a chorus. GodsPeaceWarrior looked around for the noble leader, but he was nowhere to be found. Even his ATV was gone. That was impossible, the trail led right in front of the mountain, if he had left they would have seen…his…ATV’s…headlights.
He looked around for some sort of sign, or a seal or a plague and rivers of blood. Anything that would make some kind of sense. All he saw, however, were more confused faces. Each, like him carried the mark of the cross, tattooed on their foreheads. It was the tattoo that finally did it for him. When he had first gotten it, he was so proud. It marked him as one of God’s chosen to be saved at this, the time of the Second Coming. Now he was starting to think about whether a laser could get rid of it.
“Come, my brethren and sistren, let us form the Holy Prayer-Bond Circle of Miracleness,” said GodsNumberTwo, the noble leader’s right hand. GodsPeaceWarrior moved in slow motion with the others. He took a hand in each of his. They were both sweaty and gripped his with a tight desperation.
The Harmony Chant of Sacred Light began. They all repeated it with him. Eyes shut, brows furrowed in concentration. They lost themselves in the chant. They didn’t look up, or at each other. They were afraid that if they did so, they would finally have to admit that they had been duped out of all of their money and were going to have to go through the rest of their lives with a huge, stupid cross tattoo on their foreheads. GodsPeaceWarrior wondered how long it would be before some of them were redone as swastikas. No, those thoughts were blasphemy. The prophesy was true, it had to be. The noble leader had explained it all to him. The math was right; it made sense. And what about all that strange weather they’d been having lately?
The end of the world was coming; it was tonight. He put all his concentration into the chant. Around the twelfth time that the chant was repeated, however, they started to see it. Even through their tightly shut eyes, they could tell it was happening. The sunrise. The night had passed. The leader was gone. The Earth was still there and they were all idiots. A few of them opened their tired, tear stained eyes. They looked around and turned to walk back down the mountain. There was really nothing else to do. There were cries of ‘what happened?’ and ‘what do we do now?’ GodsPeaceWarrior didn’t know. He hadn’t bothered to think about what to do now. He had been so sure that this was the end and there would be no need to make plans ever again. Yet here he was. Here they all were. There was no denying it. He turned and followed the others who were making their way down the hill. They moved like the living dead. Without purpose or will. GodsPeaceWarrior had no idea where he was going. He only knew that the first warm, dry spot he came across was where he was going to sleep. After that... He had no idea what after that. It could wait. First sleep, then food, then face the humiliating, broken shambles that his life had now become.
Of course, just when you think it can’t get any worse, it only shows you were lacking imagination. It was worse. Right then, in the darkest moment in his life, was when the BBC vans started to pull up. Oh dear God not this. Shame is so much worse when it happens publicly. The cameras panned over the line of Apocalypse-Not-Now refugees. Microphones were put in haggard faces. Excuses were mumbled, but not many actually stopped to say anything.
Two weeks ago, the media had been so easy to deal with. He just pointed out that he was the one who was going to be laughing when the Rapture came. Yet here he was and somehow the laughter just wasn’t coming. Eventually they made it to the small town they had set out from the night before. GodsPeaceWarrior tried to recall if they, or at least he in particular had burned any bridges in that town. He didn’t think so, but then thinking didn’t seem to be one of his strong suits right now. It was still too early in the day for most of the stores to be open. He saw some of the other brethren around. Staring into windows, or sitting on the curb with their head in their hands. One had even found a small patch of ground and had fallen asleep.
Ok, he was at the town. Now what? He couldn’t afford anything to eat or a room to rent. Eventually he came across a café with an outdoor table and sat down. He laid his head down to sleep but was accosted by the person who was going to be both his savior and the bane of his existence for the next few days.
“Hey there, have you seen … Dafydd! There you are. I knew if I just kept looking I’d find you eventually.”
“There’s my little brother.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Like I’d miss your big day. How are you feeling, little Dafydd?”
“I feel like my whole world has just collapsed. Like I’m the biggest idiot in the universe and that nothing will be good in my life ever again.”
“Oh cheer up little brother, it’s not like it’s the end of the world,” she said and then broke out into an uncontrollable fit of giggling.
“You’ve just been waiting to say that haven’t you?”
“Dude, for months.”
“Gwen, I know you want to gloat and everything, but I’m really tired and hungry. Can you lend me a few quid so…”
“Come on, you can stay at my place. My car is about a block away, you can sleep on the way there.”
“Oh don’t thank me. Trust me Dafydd, you are going to hate my guts once you wake up again.”
She led him to her Audi and true to his word, he passed out almost immediately. At the end of the drive, he managed to get into her flat and onto the couch before going back to sleep.
When he awoke, it was nearly dinnertime. He was not about to let Gwen know just yet. She was a great sister and had a heart of gold for taking him in like this, but she had a puckish streak a mile wide and the I-told-you-so’s were going to be rather unpleasant. You know people used to say ‘live every day as if it were your last.’ Those people were stupid. If you lived every day as if it were your last, you were going to end up like him. Broke, unemployed and with an enormous tattoo on your forehead. No, the problem wasn’t living each day as if it were your last, the problem was living each day as if there were going to be another one after it.
“Hey, look who’s up.” Gwen chirped. “Rise and shine sleepy head.”
“You’re going to make this painful aren’t you?”
“You bet your sweet arse I am,” she said. “Come on. Let’s get you something to eat, while I go and get my scrapbook”
“Yeah, I kept a scrapbook of all your stupidity since you joined that cult”
“It’s not a cult.”
“Uh huh, they took all your money and sold you on a fake prophesy while you lived in a commune. So what exactly is your definition of a cult?”
“You mentioned food…”
“Coming right up.” She said. She handed him a can of Coke and put some leftover curry in the microwave. While he was gobbling it up, she brought out her laptop. “Now I’m going to go upstairs and get the scrapbook. In the meantime you can watch this.” She opened up a Youtube video and then left the room. The video was a series of news reports about the Devoted Brethren and Sistren of the… ok fine, of his cult. They did not come out looking too good. I mean yes, there was no Texas style gun battle and no kool-aid was involved, but they did end up looking like complete lunatics. They were just showing the footage from earlier that day when Gwen came back down the stairs.
“Oh hey, did you see that?” she asked, “hold on, you passed it,” she went back a few seconds and expanded the screen. It showed the bedraggled group coming down the hill. “See there? Look,” she pointed. “That’s you. You’re on TV, you’re famous; isn’t that great?”
“How long is this going to go on?”
“Oh for at least until the end of the night,” she said gleefully. “I’ve got so much stuff here.”
He sat through it all. Not like he had much of a choice. The picture of his old job. His old condo which he had given to the noble leader. The girlfriend he used to have. The car he used to have. The family he estranged himself from because they weren’t members of the Brethren. It seemed endless. At least he could have all he wanted to eat, but this penance gig was rough. Christ may have died on the cross, but he didn’t have a sister like Gwen.
He tried at various stages to protest, ‘have pity,’ ‘this isn’t fair,’ ‘remember the Geneva Convention,’ but she always had a quote from the group’s pamphlets about how sinners didn’t deserve pity, or fairness was eternity of torment for the unbeliever. She didn’t have a come-back for the Geneva Convention thing at least, but that wasn’t much comfort. There was even a picture of him after he got his tattoo. He had a big smile on his face and a bigger red welt on his forehead. She also was kind enough to point out the extremely embarrassed look on the artist’s face. The look that said ‘hey I don’t pick the art, I just take their money.’
As much as she tortured him, Gwen did help him get back on his feet. Well, not to where he was before, but enough to where he didn’t have to sponge off of her anymore. She got him a job at a pirate-themed restaurant that was popular with the computer crowd. He got to wear a bandana on his head, which covered the tattoo rather nicely. He checked the paper for a flat and a roommate. The only thing he could find was a spot sharing a two bedroom with an ex-con who just got out on a grand larceny charge. He talked to Gwen about it and she pointed out that even if the guy was still a thief, it didn’t really matter, because Dafydd didn’t have any possessions anyway. Besides, he was the last person in the world who should be acting like they were above giving someone a second chance after doing something stupid.
So there he was. Three months after the end of the world and he had a life again. It was nothing like the one he had before, of course, but it was something. On his day off, he took his used Citroën back to Cadair Idris. He climbed back up to the spot where all his expectations had been shattered and looked around. In his Bible meetings, Dafydd seemed to have missed all that stuff about humility and the warnings against hubris. Oh well, lesson learned. While he was musing about the turn his life had taken, the wind started picking up a little. Was there a storm coming? Dafydd thought about making his way back down when it picked up quite a lot.
For no discernable reason, a section of the ground sank down into a sharp geometrical pattern. Two seconds later, there was a shimmering in the air and Dafydd found himself staring at an alien space ship. There was really no denying what it was. The ship was huge, with exposed metal and glowing engines. Various dishes and antennae poked out from the ship’s hull. A ramp lowered and a reddish lizard-looking thing came down to stand in front of him.
“Uhh….” said Dafydd.
“Greetings, sentient, I bring disturbing news.”
“An asteroid has escaped from the Kuiper belt. Your astronomers have been tracking it and calculated that it will not hit the Earth. This is true. It will however, collide with Ceres which will, in turn, be pushed in to Earth’s orbit and both will be destroyed.”
“Our ship is not equipped to stop this, nor can we save everyone on the planet, but we do not wish to see a sentient species become extinct. We ask you, sentient to bring a thousand members of your species you deem worthy and we will take you away to safety.”
The lizard paused. “Ydych chi’n siarad Saesneg?”
“Yes, I speak English, it’s just…”
“Good, we will return in half a year to retrieve you and your followers.” The alien went back up the ramp, which closed behind him. The shimmering returned, the ship departed and Dafydd was left standing on Cadair Idris alone.
Once he was able to form coherent thoughts again, he expressed his feelings to the world at large “YOU HAVE GOT TO BE BLOODY KIDDING ME!” he yelled. “Who the hell is going to believe….how am I supposed to ….WHERE THE HELL WERE YOU THREE MONTHS AGO? You couldn’t have picked any other person on the face of the whole bloody planet? There is no way that I can… I have a tattooed forehead for God’s sake.” He saw it all, the rolling eyes, the mockery, the complete and total lack of any chance whatsoever of getting anyone else to listen to him. How was he supposed to gather the best minds of humanity together? Hell, even his former cult members weren’t going to fall for this again.
“The hell with it,” he said finally. “I’ll wait until a week before, then I’ll put up fliers saying ‘party on Cadair Idris, free beer’ and call it a day.”
updated by @brian-roser: 01/28/16 10:16:59PM