(This wee bit of scribbling is in response to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The Hotel. The inspiration was this ominous snapshot:
“Meet me here,” you said, “when it all goes to hell.” When the stars started falling, when the heavens spat forth ash and avenging angels, we’d walk away from everything and rendezvous here, on this corner, and take a room in the hotel across the street to watch the end play out.
Everyone else has emergency kits filled with band-aids and iodine, with pairs of clean socks and a few hundred dollars just-in-case. They’ve got batteries and radios and those little flashlights you shake to light. Mine had none of those things except for the money, but even that’s gone. My pre-planned route didn’t take me to a hospital or a fallout shelter; it led me to a package store where I bought their best bottle of wine. Then it led me here.
Your kit was nearly the same as mine — a bit of cash and some cocktail napkins. You were in charge of caviar and brie and grapes.
Winged figures wheel in the sky. Now and then they dart down to earth, great swords flaming. Four mounted policemen rode past me a while ago; last summer, you’d petted one of those horses after the Independence Day parade. I think their duties have changed now. Instead of guns, the officers carried a sword, scales, a gas mask and a scythe. The horses snorted steam, and the hoofprints they left behind smelled of brimstone.
Getting here wasn’t hard. you’d said. As soon as you think it’s starting. I walked out of a meeting while my colleagues gathered at the window to stare slack-jawed at the roiling clouds. The streets I walked down were nearly silent. Everyone was still inside, then, watching the waters turn to blood on CNN. The screaming only really started when that wolf ate the sun.
If you left when I did, you should be here by now. Your walk is shorter than mine, even if you had to backtrack a few streets. Maybe you had to avoid the place where the ground was swallowing up the sinners.
The florist next door to the liquor store was selling roses at an apocalypse discount. Which really means I left ten dollars on the counter and took a bouquet. He was too busy weeping to haggle.
By now the ash has left a thin layer of grey on everything, even the blooms. I didn’t think to bring an umbrella. It covers me, too, like a smudgy dusting of snow. The first time I went inside to ask the concierge if you’d been by, he yelled at me for tracking footprints along the carpet. The second time, he was gone, replaced by a demon who was charging every guest room three days’ worth of movies from the adults-only channel.
He hadn’t seen you, either.
I’ve tried your cell phone. I’ve walked part of your route. On Rosen Ave I had to duck into a doorway so the frost giants wouldn’t trample me. They were on their way to battle the Aesir. Their war chant was kind of catchy.
If you made it into the cheese shop, I’ll never know. The owner was hanging from a light fixture, the toes of his shoes carving a groove into a block of cheddar as he swung.
In the end, I came back here.
They’re out on the streets now, the rest of humanity. You can tell the ones who thought they’d be raptured not by the looks of fear on their faces, but by their stunned betrayal. There are others who seem to think they’ll survive this. They’re the ones marching along, arms locked at the elbows and signing songs of triumph. The last group walked head-on into a swarm of locusts. The only thing their singing accomplished was to give the locusts easier access to their mouths. They all died choking.
I imagine you striding towards me, windblown and giddy. “You’ll never believe what I had to go through to get here,” you’ll say, and you’ll tell me how over on St. James the machines are in open rebellion. “The crackers didn’t make it,” you’ll say, “but we can get a package of Ritz from the vending machine. Unless it talks back to us.”
Or you’ll say, “I bought us these gloves in case Fimbulwinter has time to start. Do you know how hard it is to find hats and scarves in July?”
Or, “I’m sorry I’m late. This Valkyrie insisted she buy me a drink.” I’d understand. You don’t argue with Valkyries.
But it’s been hours, and you’re not here. Meteors streak across the sky, lighting up the street in the sun’s absence. It’s only a matter of time before a big one names itself Wormwood and slams through the atmosphere rather than skipping across it. The hotel walls are melting now, the brick turning to slag.
You’re alive. Deep down, I think I’d know if you were dead. I wonder what other contingencies you made, what other things you’d do in case of apocalypse. I wonder if you’re at another hotel right now, laughing and raising a glass as saints march by beneath your window. I wonder where you were when it all started, what you were thinking, who was on your mind. I wonder if, despite provisions and promises, despite late-night, desperate declarations, you chose to stand me up for Armageddon.
I wonder if, when those first trumpets sounded, you went home to him instead.