Thus saith the Lord God, “Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes among ruins. They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, ‘The Lord saith.’ And the Lord hath not sent them...” Therefore thus saith the Lord God, “Because ye have spoken vanity, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you….” Ezekiel 13THE SUN WAS shining, but in the shade, the young woman was cold. She picked at her white toenail polish, eroding it like the patio wicker. She'd been smoking; her fingers trembled, still anxious. Now she peeled more frantically at her toenails. She shifted, and the furniture gave a warning creak under her.
"Fuck fuck fuck stupid furniture fuck fuck," she mumbled.
"…Then another sign appeared in heaven," a canned voice announced. The young woman looked up at the radio. It precariously tottered on a neighbor's barbeque grill, the volume turned up so whoever was inside could hear it. "And behold," the radio continued, "a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads, seven diadems."
The young woman sniffed. She turned her attention to peeling at the dry spots on her face. She had been washing her face with antiseptic hand soap, and the oily places had somehow become thick, flesh colored scabs.
"…And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth, he might devour her child…"
Revolting. She stood and leaned over the patio railing. "Turn that thing down!" she yelled. She saw movement inside the neighbor's apartment, and slunk back from the rail in embarrassment.
A car was pulling up. She hadn't expected him home so early. She promptly flicked the cigarette stub away, pulling her sweater tighter around her as she hurried inside. She turned the water faucets on in the kitchen and rushed down the hall, touching the picture frames on the way to the bathroom. She locked the door, sat on the toilet seat, and sprayed Glade between her legs and all over her sweater. Then she waited.
There was a tentative rapping on the bathroom door.
"Rick," she said, shimmying her pants down and readjusting on the toilet seat. She wrapped toilet paper around one hand, like a mitt.
"What are you doing in there?"
"What do you think?" she replied curtly. She finished up, flushed, rinsed her hands in the sink, and slowly unbolted the bathroom door.
"You smell like someone dropped you in an ashtray full of potpourri," he said, leaning against the doorframe. The young woman smiled, touching his starched collar.
"Why was the water running in the kitchen?" he asked. "I had to turn it off."
"How was work?" she asked.
"Shitty, thanks," he said, glowering. "You really do smell like rancid ass. Seriously. And how did the job search go?"
He glanced down at what could have been the classifieds, crumpled in a ball by the toilet.
"Career opportunities are few and far between." She smiled stiffly. "I'm holding out for something good."
"I made a hundred in tips," he said. And she knew he hated the job, hated waiting on the snooty tables and scooping up crumbs with a gold plated crumber, and being on his feet all day was killing his knees and back, but more than that, she knew he'd never quit. "And I got off early. So happy birthday."
She pushed past him, angling her body between the doorframe and his. He leaned into the bathroom, picked up a tiny silver loop, and carefully pinned it in his left ear. He loosened his tie. "Fucking job." He turned, then, as if to consider himself in the mirror.
"Why don't you quit?" she whispered.
He looked at her. Then he squinted, leaning close.
"What's that dry spot on your face?" he asked, touching it lightly with his fingertips.
"I don't even know," she said. "Did you chip a tooth?"
"Huh. Must be a shadow," she shrugged. He put his forehead against hers, then kissed her gently on the nose.
"Take a shower," he said. "Put something on. We'll go out."
"Let's tell them it's your birthday," he said, leering at her from across the table.
"Come on, it'll be fun." He grinned.
"I said no."
"Let's get a waiter over here." He turned in his seat, widened his eyes expectantly, and wiggled one hand in the air. "I see the customers do this all the time," he explained.
She imagined him in a suit, his hair gelled past his cowlicks into an unnatural part. The thought irritated her.
"Rick, stop it."
"It'll just take a second. Free ice cream."
She stood up abruptly, the chair screeching noisily from the table. "Rick," she said, "don't. I already fucking said no."
He turned his body back to face her. "God, Mo," he said. "Take it easy." She caught her breath.
"I am taking it easy." She paused. "I," she said. "Shit. I don't know. I don't know. I'm sorry. Just – no big deal, right? Okay?"
"Fine, okay," he said, still wide-eyed. "Right."
She exhaled slowly. "Right."
"The stars," he said. He paused to point skyward. Through the clouds, a few stars clearly winked and stuttered.
"And a shooting star. See it?" He smiled up at the sky.
The young woman toed at a crack in the concrete. "Missed it." She was full from dinner and anxious to get to the car.
"Mo, there's another," he said excitedly. "Just look at them."
She squinted at the sky. Three prongs of light pierced the darkness, like flicking tongues. The longest tine stretched to touch the horizon. Instinctively she touched her face. "Oh my God. What are those?"
"What?" he asked.
"Look," she said. "That isn't a shooting star. What is that?"
"Aurora?" he asked. "Right? An aurora borealis, isn't it?"
"I don't know." She shivered. "I guess it must be. How far north do we have to be?"
"Dunno," he said. He began to walk on, but she froze.
"Are we being bombed?"
"What?" he faltered.
"Like world war, it looks like."
He frowned, tugging at his left ear.
She shivered again. "Or worse," she said. "Look at it."
He shook his head. "I…" he paused, choosing his words carefully. "I really don't think so, Mo." He gently reached for her arm with his free hand, jostling the car keys in the other. "It's all just stars."
The late news was on. The young woman sat on the couch, already watching the television carefully as she shrugged off her coat and set it on the cushion next to her.
"I don't get it," he said finally. Maureen didn't say anything, didn't waver. He leaned toward her, his face inches from hers. "Mo. What are you looking for?"
"Hm—" she said, putting up a hand to silence him. After a moment, she frowned. "Uh," she said, and looked at him questioningly.
"I said, what are you looking for?"
"Oh," she said. "Oh. The hell if I know." She smiled for the first time since dinner. She stood up mechanically and walked past him to the bathroom. He could hear the door close, lock, and then – he strained to hear this – the sound of Glade spray potpourri.
The lights were out by the time the young woman reemerged from the bathroom. She crept down the hall in the darkness and into the bedroom. She hesitated, then reached for the light switch. The bedroom exploded into light.
"Rick?" she asked the man-sized bundle of swaddling in her bed.
"Mm," the bundle said, and it gave way to Rick's shape. He sat up in bed, frowning. "Hon?" he asked sleepily. He patted the sad space next to him.
She turned the light back off and crawled into bed, still fully clothed. She curled up near him. He sighed and wriggled his arm around her, his hand softly brushing against her head.
Where was that ticking coming from? The young woman shuddered. She tried to distinguish shapes in the dark. The chair. The coat rack, which, with its hat and jacket, looked like a man. The closet door. Then she pinpointed the ticking's source: he had left his wristwatch on, and now his arm rested limply on her pillow, leaving her to hear its mechanical rhythm all night.
"Rick?" the young woman whispered.
His body twitched, or flinched, and he exhaled all at once, like a sigh.
"Rick," she said louder. "Hey. Wake up. Your watch, it's--'' she paused. "Annoying." The sound was insistent, right in her ear. She writhed for a few moments, trying to escape the ticking. Finally, she reached for his wrist. He shifted in his sleep, moving away from her.
"Rick, your watch," she said, shaking him.
This time, he didn't move.
"For the love of God," she mumbled as she kicked her legs over the side of the bed, sitting up in a swift motion. She padded down the hall into the dark living room and settled on the couch. Moonlight squeezed through the tree limbs, projecting shadows through the window on the far end of the room; the silhouettes swayed on the walls. She turned on the television.
There, airing late on the public channel, an opera. She flipped through the channels quickly, but every other show had been replaced with colored bars or food processors. She went back to the opera. Then she turned the volume down, partly for Rick, and mostly because she didn't care for opera.
On mute, the singer's mouth was open in what looked like a frozen expression of horror. She was wearing purple and scarlet, bent under the weight of jewelry draped all over her. Surprised at her own interest, the young woman smiled to herself and leaned closer to the screen. The singer was flourishing a gold goblet with one hand, and her movements had become frenetic. The young woman squinted. There were letters carefully inscribed on the singer's forehead and –-
She lurched backward against the couch. There was blood dripping from the corners of the woman's mouth.
"Shit," she whispered, fumbling for the remote. She flipped the television set off and stood up shakily. She stumbled to the kitchen, poured herself a glass of orange juice, and walked back out into the living room.
There was a shape, a thin, human shape, standing at the window.
The young woman didn't cry out. She stiffened, then exhaled heavily, realizing the shape was outside, looking in. She edged backwards towards the hallway, feeling for the pictures on the walls and for the light switches. She found the doorway to the bathroom with her left heel, slid inside backwards, and bolted the door. Then she turned on the light.
She checked behind the shower curtain. Nothing. Good. She whirled to stare for a moment at her pale face in the mirror. She turned the faucet on and let the hot water run over her hands. The sound of the running water was thunderous. She squirted the antiseptic hand wash into her palms, rubbed them together, and slowly, deliberately, washed her face. Then she turned the faucet off.
Hands trembling, she felt inside the drawers. Her hands found cotton swabs. Then rubbing alcohol. Neosporin. Tissues. Nail file?
She grabbed the scissors and walked out into the hallway. She was moving more confidently now, and she felt herself carried into the living room. She shut her eyes, turned to the window, and opened them.
There was no one there.
She blinked. He stood at the foot of the bed, loosening his shirt at the collar.
"Rick," she said, stretching. She sat up in bed. "What time is it?"
"Nine," he said.
"You're late for work."
His brow creased. "Maureen," he said.
"You're supposed to be in at eight," she said.
"Maureen, it's nine at night." He laid his tie lengthwise along the bed and began to unbutton his shirt.
The young woman pitched out of bed. Her legs trembled under her. She staggered toward the window.
"It's dark out!" She clutched at the curtains, trying to pull them toward each other. "It's so dark!"
She turned toward him, her eyes widening.
"You were in bed all day," he said, not looking at her. He unbuttoned the wrists of his sleeves.
"How long?" she asked him. "How long have I been asleep?"
"How should I know?"
"I can't believe it," she whispered.
"Neither can I," he agreed. "I mean, Jesus, Mo," he said, his eyes flashing at her, "Jesus, when were you going to find yourself a job, start helping with the rent? I mean," he whipped his shirt off at the bed, "when the hell are you going to start doing anything?"
"It—God, Rick, I'm sorry. It was an accident, okay?"
"Well, you're losing time."
[More horrifying episodes go here!]
The young woman collapsed into the patio furniture, picking at the carton for a cigarette and breathing hard. She lit the cigarette as she spread the classifieds out in front of her.
There was a want ad placed for students and recent graduates; there was an ad for an experienced chef and another, a telemarketing gig.
A prickly sensation crept up Maureen's arm, and she slapped at her left elbow.
She leaned again over the newsprint, but something in her peripheral distracted her. She looked, then, at her right palm, and there, in its center, at one glossy mosquito in a pool of her own blood.
She rubbed her palms together, trying to chafe the insect and blood into ashes. The red smeared, tracing a glistening path up her forearm. She wiped her arm against the classifieds, lining the margin with the red.
She slapped at her right elbow. Then at the buzzing just at the nape of her neck.
The young woman looked up and convulsed, a loud singular utterance. They were toeing up her arms and thighs, fluttering in her hair. Ants, trailing into her shoes. Gnats flitted in her nostrils, with the fullness of dust particles. Wasps bumbled near her eyelids, their thin wings brushing against her lashes.
She leapt up shrieking, the shrill tinnitus of the horde deep in her ears. She threw open the screen door, and it clacked behind her, squealing on its hinges.
She didn't stop until she had reached the bathroom.
Her chest heaving, the young woman doubled over onto the toilet and folded her arms across herself.
She saw her forearms, then, and that welts had already formed.
In her dream, the sea was churning. Only it wasn't really; it was glass on the surface, unwavering and immobile, and it was the fire underneath that bubbled and rolled with the wrath of tides.
And words came, unprovoked, babblings from her gut. But when they came out of her lips, they weren't sounds at all, but instead, objects she couldn't name. And they carried with them the stench of rot.
The objects each hung in the air for a moment, then one by one, they clattered against the glass sea. One made a deep chip in the sea's surface, like a small bird flying into a windshield. Tiny hairline cracks erupted from the center of the chip with the rumbling sound of shifting ice floes, as thin stems of steam began to curl up from the widening fissures.
When she opened her eyes, he stood in front of her, tugging on a suit jacket and applying the last of the gel to his hair.
"Mo," he said. He leaned over and kissed her cheek, hard. "I'm late," he said. "Gotta go."
He moved to leave, but she grabbed his tie.
"Not today," she said, "please. Don't go."
The corners of his mouth twitched. "We'll talk later," he said. "We should talk later."
"No. Talk now. My arms," she said, thrusting them toward him palms-up.
"What about them," he said.
"Mo. I'm late."
She sat up in bed, pulling the sheets up with her, up to her shoulders. It made her look like a child.
"No work today," she said. "Stay with me. My arms, they're boiling."
"I have to go to work," he said, shaking his head.
"Aren't you supposed to live every day like it's your last?"
He smiled woodenly at her. "I like to think I do."
"It's not true," she said. "It's a lie. If we really believed it, we wouldn't leave each other to go to work or school or wherever." Her body shuddered violently, and she pulled the sheets still higher up around her. She looked like she was being swallowed.
He had taken a step away from the bed.
"There's no good reason to skip work," he said, "because. Because. It's like, you'd never go to work. You'd never do anything. If you lived every day like it was your last, you wouldn't be living." He shook his head again. "You'd be rushing."
He paused. Finally, he managed: "What's happening to you, Mo?"
"I'm boiling. Rick, it's coming. The world. The world," she said, "is ending."
"Oh, Jesus Fucking Christ," he said, his smirk disappearing. "We," he said, yanking at the cuffs of his dress shirt, "will talk later. I am late."
"Don't leave me," she said.
"Things will be fine," he said. "Fucking chill out. I think you'll make it." He smoothed his tie. "Without me. For one day. Okay?" He smiled grimly.
"Rick, please, Goddammit Rick, please."
He turned and walked out. She heard him stalk down the hall. Then the front door slammed; his dress shoes clunked hollowly down the stairs.
The bed trembled.
She sat still, trying not to breathe.
"Rick?" she called hoarsely.
The bed trembled again, harder this time.
"Rick," she whispered, "come back."
The young woman slowly leaned back into the bed. She felt as though she were pinned in place, as if someone were pushing against her shoulders, forcing her into the mattress. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the pressure of the bed beneath her.
She opened her eyes. It was definitely vibrating. It was definitely shaking.
It occurred to the young woman that the movement of the bed was causing a dull, distant buzz. But the buzzing sounded as if it were moving closer and closer to the bed. She frowned, sinking deeper into the bed.
The pain in her forearms slowly crept up into the joints of her shoulders, meeting in her collarbone, then extending to her belly. She crumpled deeply into the bed as the shaking became violent. There was a smoky red glow coming from under, or inside, the box spring. The floorboards creaked and shuddered, and began to splinter.
She moaned as a long red seam erupted on the floor. Slowly, the ground began to shift, to turn and split. The light gurgled.
"The beast that was and is not," she whispered, "is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction." She squeezed her eyes shut, her white-knuckled hands twitching, unable to grip the bed.
The young man loosened his tie and walked to the bathroom for his earring. "Mo?" he said. "You here?" He heard the water faucet running.
"Fucking," he whispered to himself. "Mo?"
He leaned into the bathroom and turned the faucet off. He slid the earring off the marble sink top.
"I'm home. You can come out," he said. He dug his hand in his pocket for the tips, and set them on the counter. He paused.
He put the earring back on the marble.
"Mo?" he asked, softly now. There was the sound of a gentle, rhythmic tapping. He frowned, and slowly pushed the bedroom door open.
She lay in bed, slack-jawed.
"Mo?" The young man slowly approached the bed. He knelt beside her and gently brushed at a strand of hair that had adhered to the corner of her lips.
"Oh, hon," he mumbled. He touched her face. She was burning up.
Her eyes were blank and glassy and wet. She was completely still, except for the rapid flittering of her eyelids, and for her left hand, which thumped rhythmically against the nightstand, keeping time, counting down the seconds.