Pick Your Poison

Short Story

Four letters press my buttons as the screaming resumes.
Atop the hill of ice, sunset's glory calls me back.
Always and never, you die in my arms
As I feel your corpse sink into my disposition.
I'll absorb the fire, though it burns so hot;
My core is melted glass in your eye's sight.
Truth has found me after all this time it would seem.

The ocean's churning tempo danced in his ears like the ringing of church bells. Digging his calloused brown feet into the eerily cool sand, he could only laugh silently to himself as he endlessly peered at the reflection of the now purple sky on the water's surface. Her tiny frame, breathing in syncopation with the tide's violent pace, seemed to quiver in his arms as he pulled her ever closer into his trusted grasp.
“Peter,” she said with a voice made of razor blades, “is this really happening?” Her words did not seem to make sense as they penetrated the heavy air and bounced against his head. “Are we really going to die?”
Breaking his gaze away from the violent water's reflection of the sky, he slowly looked down into his lap to watch her lips form these forgotten symbols, these illusions of communication. He truly had heard her questions in some distant corner of his subconscious mind, but the only thing he could think to reply was, “We've been dead all along.”
It was not his cryptic words that soothed her quivering form. Her preponderance had not sought some distant and unknown answer. All she had wanted was that subtle vibration of his voice, the thick and sweet honey of his concern. Condemned and exhilarated, his emotive face comforted her racing mind like a cool breeze on her sweaty brow. The sky's neon colored orgasm of light took away any desire she might have had to rationalize the situation around her.
They had been laying there on the sand with limbs entangled since the night before. Making love, drinking a seemingly toxic amount of wine, laughing and crying; but mostly they just watched the sky. The wind carried the smell of sour smoke and ash, reminders of society's collapse into anarchy. To the two vibrant bodies it truly felt like the Earth's last day. Even without the sky's vibrant and surreal colors, it almost felt as though the planet itself had surrendered its life.
It all seemed right now: the Mueller Effect, the end to all rational society, his journey through pure insanity as he traveled back to Monterey... and her. The puzzle's pieces had all come together to form this cold blanket of sand, this tempestuous ocean, this orgasmic kaleidoscope of colors that the sky had become. His perspective of only three days previous was virtually inaccessible now; this had all happened so fast. The only thing he could seem to remember was that newscaster's face as she read the impossible. He had been sitting at home alone that night when the anchor's crackling voice had stolen his mind away from the joint he had been rolling a bit too tight. Looking up to that distant television screen, he remembered wondering why it was even turned on.

“Tonight humanity is presented with its greatest fear, now as a reality. Before I continue, I must urge that everyone not panic. This is news that must be shared with the world, but we must all struggle to remain calm in this time of confusion. Just one hour ago scientists at NASA released a statement that our Sun will soon be victim to what they term the 'Mueller Effect'. What this means is our Sun will soon become spontaneously destabilized. In other words, our Sun will go supernova and explode. This explosion will send out a massive wave of energy that will destroy this solar system. The projected time of the supernova's impact on Earth............ is 4:21pm on June 22, 2018. That is only three days from today...”

Whether it was the her haunted intonation or his body's internal connection to the Earth, he instantly knew that this was the truth. No moment of surreal disbelief saved him from the waves of nausea and the overwhelming feeling that he was in the wrong place in the universe at the wrong time. Taking no time to listen to the rest of the broadcast Peter jumped up and manically began packing for the trip that he knew lay before him. No time to waste as the world fell apart, he thought. No time to wait for the roads to close down, no time to sit in his tiny though expensive apartment and burn.
He couldn't have verbalized it at this point, but the only thing he could see in his mind was that sweet face of his past love melting away; it was for that image that he packed. It was for that image that he left that doomed building that was never home and began his cross country travel back to Monterey. There was no way to prove that she was still there, or that she was still even alive. He was far past any desire for such truth; he did not leave it all behind for anything but the picture in his head and the soft singing of her voice as she used to whimper, “Can you come over?”
He was thankful that he didn't live in the nearby metropolis. He predicted that he had about twenty or thirty miles until he would be forced to travel onto a main road; after this point he could not count on having a gas, a car, or even the most basic safety. With his rugged backpack filled with mostly water and beef jerky, he felt almost prepared for this circumstance as he loaded and packed his two small pistols, as well as a hunting knife and some laughably basic medical items.
Three days was far more than enough time to get to California on any normal day. The day was not normal, however, as anyone watching the 6am news that morning would attest. But as his humanity blossomed into the raw motivation to hold her face once more in his rough hands, he had realized that there was no other way. He started his car and looked over at the clock. It had only been five minutes since he had seen the ominous news, five minutes to suddenly be dropped back into his own mortality.
The air was still as it always was this early in the morning; it smelled heavily of the cannabis that he had so cleverly hidden behind his neighbors shed. He quickly grabbed as many stalks of the almost finished flowers as he could carry and started his car. He had been amazed to find the dirt roads as empty of other souls as ever. Driving with painfully loud house music bleeding from his giant speakers, he felt claustrophobic surrounded by his giant backpack, many stalks of weed, and pungent cans of gas that he always kept handy in his tiny car.
He pulled from his wallet that tattered photo that he had nearly burned dozens of times before. Looking into the eyes of this goddess yet again, his usual reaction of sorrow and lament was overwhelmed by a fire in his mind, a primal drive to steal her from all of this. The picture had not yet faded beyond recognition, it showed a bright smiling face with a startlingly clear and blue tropical ocean behind it. Her eyes had always held his gaze for hours at a time, and even now he began to drift off into those infected and harsh memories as the road stretched on for miles.
The frame of his windshield became a window into that distant life of seven years before. He could see himself bounding up to her door with that shit-eating grin that always made her eyes smile. Into her house, which had always felt like a home to him whenever he stayed the night. She would always be frantically getting herself ready, whether there was an event, a time limit, or nothing at all. She was beautiful in a way he couldn't describe fully at the time. Soft skin like the slowly drifting clouds on a bright day seemed to stretch forever around her perfectly voluptuous frame. Her petite breasts made her gracious form fit into his embrace so tight it was almost as though they could not separate. But her eyes always stopped him in his tracks, seized and innocent like a sleeping deer on a freeway; they were hopeful and seemed to be made purely of joy incarnate.
And now with this tragedy again playing out before his fevered mind, he realized that it was her eyes that formed the true narrative to their doomed romance.
When the two of them had first met her eyes had just been barely opened after a shitty relationship; they were waxing like the moon as it begins its new rotation. As they quickly became intimate her eyes seemed to smile so largely that he feared to look in the mirror and see his own as incomparably shallow and blank holes in his head; she was full like the moon as it lights ones path in the middle of the night. As time passed on and useless and unavoidable miscommunications mutated their fresh and exhilarating energy into a exercise in tedium, he could see her close up her heart slightly more each day; her sight of him had noticeably waned to a sliver of hopelessness.

Having watched the moon's life cycle before he was not surprised when she told him that she was moving back to Monterey. She had always seemed two steps out of his reach, even as he had held her gently in sleep. When she finally walked out to her car, bags packed and heart decayed, he watched himself run after her and give her what he thought would be their last embrace. She had come back so many times before after their heated fights; the air of her final departure was as heavy and silent as the stillness that had met him as he faced the oncoming apocalypse. There was no familiar feeling of guilty wanting for her to stay. It was over.
Their connection had been a magnetic one, extreme both in attraction and repulsion. When the dust trailing her car's escape finally settled back to Earth, Peter found himself curled up among the daisies and non-native grasses. His body shaking and convulsing, he remembered thinking how different it felt to finally lose this entity that was never quite in his full grasp.
Time began to speed up in front of his eyes as he drove now towards the first main road on his long journey. He saw the darkness that consumed his thoughts for that next long year, saw the women he dated and dismayed, watched as he yet again got too drunk to even have sex with the pointless slut he had dragged home with indifference. He saw the transition from hate to acceptance fly before him accompanied by visions of creating art, learning about science and philosophy in his beloved school, and eventually finding the forgiveness to move on and open himself to the world again. Sure, he again found love and was even in love for a few months with an amazonian princess he had met at a rave; but no connection could emulate the power and concern that his heart had held for Loretta.
As the credits of his heart's incision rolled before him, the road slowly evened out until he found himself again surrounded by the dense and burdened pavement of the Interstate Highway. Pulling up to the on-ramp from this empty and rarely used road, he realized that he really wasn't prepared for what lay before him: normalcy. The few cars that did fill the Highway's fours lanes did not drive with the feverish pace of those who have just received a death sentence. He was overwhelmed with the urge to exit his car, run against the trickling traffic, and scream to the quickly passing drivers of their impending doom.
Merging on to the impossibly calm freeway, he suddenly realized that he had been given a head start. He had actually read obsessively about doomsday scenarios from a sociological perspective; he knew it would be only a short time until the societal shit hit the fan. So he drove. Taking no chance at delay he bundled up his illegal drugs in the backseat and switched the car to cruise control. He drove for an hour more until he began to notice the high number of cars speeding by at an alarming pace. Eventually matching their frantic pace, he was astounded how far he got until the natural morning traffic and the unnaturally frenzied traffic slowed his car to a halt.
A flash of orange filled the sky, pulling Peter's mind out of the car and back on to the beach, back to his exploding world. Her body had jumped in his arms and grasped for him tighter. Even in this overwhelming moment of anticipation, he still could smell her warm and inviting scent that seemed to hang like a fog around her body. “I don't understand any of this,” she sighed, responding to the look of comforted acceptance on his face.
He had already explained many times what little he knew about the Mueller Effect. It had previously been a very poorly-known and overly technical theory about the nature of the universe's expansion. He only knew anything about it by luck, or chance: he had found it highly interesting material stumbling across it on wikipedia when he was quite inebriated in school. He had read that scientists had founded a new field of physics to explain the nature of dark matter. They found that as matter is destroyed by a black hole, it creates a temporal “pull” on the very fabric of the universe.
He had stroked her hair as he told her about how the natural expansion of the universe does not create new space, it stretches from the space that was already there. The time/space between these points of stretching and the black holes is basically pulled taught, to the point that the universe actually ruptures. What scientist didn't know was our little slice of the galaxy was directly occupant of one of these stretching zones; as scientists learned more about the Effect, they realized that it worked through a complicated though predictable algorithm. On June 19, 2018 they finally solved the algorithm by chance and found that a tiny space at the center of the sun would be torn, destabilizing its nuclear fusion and creating an instantaneous supernova.
He had learned of this last part just after he had abandoned his car back at that motionless freeway. Stuck in an ocean of metal and confused humanity, he had planned well for this as he shouldered his heavy backpack and sticky cannabis. As he trekked away the nearby forest, he distinctly remembered how scared they all looked as waves of people left their useless cars and carried with them what they could. He could still see that frightened mother and her two infants, she was openly crying as she took her children and simply started walking along his side as he forged on. So close to California, he knew he had to find a better form of transportation if he was going to go absolutely anywhere.
The memory of the mother's haggard whimpers filled his ears as he watched the ocean vibrate with the gravitational energy of a dying Sun. He had told Loretta bits and pieces about his journey to find her as they cradled each other on the rocky sand. He had found her ironically in the first place he looked for her. When he had reached that tiny hidden cove on his newly acquired dirt bike (and breathed yet another sigh of relief that he had thought to bring the very trade-able cannabis), he simply called her name and she was standing there like a wind swept willow tree. No words were spoken then, only the embrace of souls magnetic, the look into eyes of fire, the manifestation of two holy forces resuming without stigma.
He was no proponent of fate in any realistic sense, but he could not turn away from the fact that life had very clearly placed these two forlorn lovers back into each other's lives. The circumstances were too overwhelming for him to question why she had been at this nostalgic beach, even though he knew it was a safe and familiar location for them both. As she walked him over to the tiny little cove, they spoke of life and his struggles getting into California. He poisoned her ear with tales of widespread violence and looting in even the most secure towns. He loosely described the sight of piles of suicidal bodies being stacked up in the hot sun. But he couldn't bring himself to speak of that poor women and her children: the way they died seemed more tragic than the Sun's death itself.
He had fought through obstacles unimaginable, but none of that mattered now. So they sat and waited as the sky was filled with galactic revelry in every possible shade. They spoke, drank, smoked, ate his still plentiful food; but really they just experienced the moment together as he never expected they could. And as the lights across the sky began to shimmer and quake, he reflected that our souls are very similar to this broken reality that would soon kill everything. When we grow and mature as people, we are not creating new personal space and mentality, rather we are stretched to this greater form from what we are initially given. And when our stretched personalities contradict our actions and raw emotions, there are parts of our selves that crack, distort, and are ultimately destroyed. As he again looked down the coast to view the billowing smoke pouring over what had been Monterey but days before, he realized that this was the way things were supposed to work. Things are meant to decay, get sick and die, this is the nature of the universe.
He found himself saying this last part out loud, to the frightened eyes of Loretta's fears. But she was not afraid to die, it was more that she couldn't accept that this was all natural and right. As he slowly kissed along her neck, her hurried breath began to be accompanied by the panting and soft moaning that he remembered so well in his many nightmares. Her curves met his lips with a shiver as he slowly overwhelmed her form with his own. With the softness of a warm wind's embrace and the openness that only these two lovers could share, he made love to her for what seemed like hours. He knew that it was over now. The Sun had died. It was time.

The ground began to violently shake and the ocean seemed to burst with fresh energy of a dead star pulling at its surface. They did not leave their horizontal embrace at this moment, nor ever. They simply looked into each other's eyes as the first wave of rebellious energy hit the Earth, instantly vaporizing the ocean's waters. In slow motion he watched as their bodies suddenly became fire and melted together for one final expression of eternal intimacy. He somehow continued to watch as the rest of the planet was consumed in this impossible release of galactic energy. His perspective did not end with his body's demise, nor did his intimacy with his goddess' still embraced form. They lay together on the edge of infinity, held in each other's arms, and watched their home explode.