Drabblecast 299 – The Revelation of Morgan Stern



Friday, October 11th, 2013

Cover for Drabblecast episode 299, The Revelation of Morgan Stern, by Jerel DyeIt is July 31, your birthday, and I can’t reach you. I’ve been trying all day, but the cell networks are down, the internet is down. I even tried a pay phone–there are two left in town that I know of, and I collected all of my change and walked to the 76 in the village. It was on fire. I watched it for a while from a distance as it painted a brown, toxic streak across the sky. It was a long walk back to the house, or what’s left of it. My feet hurt, and it was too quiet.

 

 

The Revelation of Morgan Stern

By Christie Yant

 

It is July 31, your birthday, and I can’t reach you. I’ve been trying all day, but the cell networks are down, the internet is down. I even tried a pay phone–there are two left in town that I know of, and I collected all of my change and walked to the 76 in the village. It was on fire. I watched it for a while from a distance as it painted a brown, toxic streak across the sky. It was a long walk back to the house, or what’s left of it. My feet hurt, and it was too quiet.

The back of the house fell in, but I managed to climb into the kitchen and recover a few things. Tonight we would have celebrated your birthday over video chat, the best we could do so far apart. I have no way to tell you that I salvaged a donut and lit a candle and sang to you. I don’t know if you’re alive or dead.

I thought it was just an earthquake. We’ve been waiting for “the Big One” my entire life, so what else would I think it was? Just the inevitable result of tectonic pressure–slippage, two goliaths moving past each other, barely a shrug in geological terms but enough to rattle the life out of us. I thought that an earthquake like that, one that could bring down a town that had known it was coming forever, surely that must be the worst of it.

I was wrong. We didn’t see the worst of it until after the sun went down, when furious angels filled the sky–from where, I don’t know–and with them, the screams that broke the silence.

I wonder if you’re safe. I wonder how far they can fly.

#

August 2

I didn’t know what to take from the house. I suppose it was stupid, but the first thing I thought of was your birthday present. It was a stupid, sentimental thought, but when I opened it I had to laugh. If there’s anything I need to take with me, it’s your birthday present.

This isn’t at all how we imagined it, is it? We talked about this sort of thing a lot, sometimes joking, sometimes serious: the trouble the world was in, and how it would eventually end. A biological accident, some virus cooked up in a lab; nuclear war, maybe a meteor strike. We’d look at the stars during those rare and precious times together, and talk about how it might happen, and what we would do if it did. So for your birthday I started to put a survival kit together, as a romantic, silly joke. In Case of Apocalypse.

We joked about the nonsensical ways: zombies, aliens, the Rapture.

I don’t think that’s what this is. They do not seem to discriminate the way I would expect the god of the Old Testament to do.

So far I have been safe. Luck seems to be on my side, and I am on my way to you. My fourth grade California history lessons will finally pay off: I am going to spend tonight at the old adobe Mission, and then walk south down El Camino Real from Mission to Mission during the day until I reach Los Angeles.

It’s quiet again, except for a sort of background noise, like a radio, or a conversation I’m not near enough to hear. There’s something familiar and almost comforting about it.

 

#

August 4

I only got as far as Summerland. Is it weird to say that I’m enjoying this part? Everything around me is in ruins, the survivors are grouped together in terrified clusters, some of them already talking about rebuilding. I try to avoid them as much as I can. But walking this stretch of the freeway is peaceful; the dolphins seem unaware of what’s happened, they swim just offshore as they always have on placid days. The air is cool, the sun is bright, the water the teal of early summer, and I know that this is the last time it’s going to be easy. Once I get past Ventura the way will be treacherous–the city scares me; crossing through the Mojave scares me more. But all that’s important is that I get to you.

I’m going to Wichita, like we said we would. It was a joke, I know, but it’s all I can think of to do. I’m going, and I hope you are too. I hope you remember where we said we’d meet, what the place was called.

I’ve only seen a couple of angels today, black against the clear blue sky. I think they mostly come out at night.

#

            August 7

I’m so tired. I’ve only just started and I’m already so tired. And scared, for reasons that I’m not sure I’m even ready to commit to paper. Reasons that have nothing to do with the end of the world. Suddenly I’m a child again, talking to imaginary friends, and believing for all the world that they’re talking back.

It’s nothing. Just the exhaustion. Tomorrow will be better.

#

August 16, Barstow, California

There it is. The desert.

It scares me in ways I can’t even articulate. I know what it is to burn for a day, to have our nearest star turn from friend to enemy, to be blistered and nauseated. For a day. What about a week? Two weeks? I don’t know how long it will take. Water, shade, sunblock, and getting across that expanse as fast as I possibly can are what’s on my mind right now. If anything’s going to finish me, it’ll be the angels or the desert. I haven’t survived one just to let the other kill me. You’re on the other side of the desert, or at least I hope you are. I have to assume you’re there, safe, waiting for me, or there won’t be a point.

I stole a bike in the valley. Is it stealing? I don’t know. It has a patch kit and an odometer. I haven’t ridden much since I was a teenager, and I’ve never ridden more than forty miles in a day. Today I’m going to try for 100. I need to get across this wasteland as fast as I can. I’m pretty sure my life depends on it.

#

August 17

They came out at sunset, just as I was getting ready to ride. There must have been survivors there after all, though I didn’t run into any. The lack of bodies has been a puzzle until now. They take them, I think–I could see some of them carrying people, silhouetted against the dusk-lit sky, like a hawk carrying a mouse in its talons. Where? Why? I don’t know. Barstow is in flames; I can still see the glow from here. All I could do was ride as hard as I could, and not look back, not look up.

#

August 18

I think I may have figured out where they came from. They certainly look like biblical angels, so I had assumed they came from above us, somewhere, even if it doesn’t make sense. The air teeming with impossible creatures that set things on fire with their touch and carry people off into the sky doesn’t make sense either. But tonight at sunset I waited and watched.

They don’t come from above, they come from below.

Maybe you knew that already. Maybe it was obvious, the way the earth has split open, here in Arizona just as in California. Maybe it’s out where you are, too, the Earth cracked and broken, and soot-black angels emerging from the heart of the planet every night.

#

August 20

The tire on the bike just couldn’t take another patch, so I’m back on foot.

I should have told you back then when we were forming our “plan” that 25 miles a day on foot is about the maximum. I learned this in fourth grade, as did every kid educated in California: it’s how they decided where to put the Missions, always a day’s walk from each other. From the Santa Barbara Mission to the Mission Santa Inez is twenty five miles; from Santa Inez to La Purisima is twenty-five miles. I knew that. We each have 1500 miles to cross. I think I’m still in Arizona. It’s going to take a long time.

I should have told you.

#

September 1

It’s too hot to travel by day, and by night there are the angels. I’ve been trying to split the difference by starting out late in the afternoon, before sunset, and going as long as I can, until I spot one of them and have to find shelter. Shelter is usually a rock, and it is usually already claimed by the non-human residents of the desert. It is a good thing I am not afraid of snakes.

I’m down to my last few looted Power Bars, and I don’t really know how far I have left to go.

I have a lash of blood blisters across three fingers of my right hand, and I cut the hell out of my left. It hurts to hold the pen, but I’ve got nothing else to do. I used to think being alone would be great, with time to do nothing but think, and it was at first; but now the sound of my own voice grates on me, and I’m tired of my own thoughts. I wish I could talk to you; you always had new thoughts, fresh thoughts I’d never had before, but they still seemed to settle in my mind as if they belonged to me all along. I’ve seen nothing but the brown of sand and stone by day and the world in grayscale at night. I can’t wait to see something green again that isn’t a cactus.

Did I ever tell you that I used to hear voices when I was a kid? I think it started after my parents died; trauma does strange things to a person’s mind. They were sort of comforting, those voices, even if they never made sense. In my memory they sound a little like my mom and dad. They made me feel like I wasn’t really alone in the world after all, just like you always made me feel. I decided at some point that they were the voices of the animals that lived in the ground, and I would lay on my belly in the yellow grass and whisper my life into their burrows, my hopes and dreams, my anger and pain. And I would listen to them answer with meaningless sounds—the language, I thought, of rabbits and ground squirrels.

I must not be holding it together as well as I thought I was. I have to face it: I’m hearing them again.

There are fewer angels now. I only saw three last night, though they were close and I thought for certain I was moments away from being carried off by those burning hands.

But only three. That’s good. Maybe it’s almost over.

#

September 15

I’m in Texas.

I met a guy on the road, maybe your age. He has a horse. He offered to let me ride it–I declined. My feet feel like they’re on fire all the time, but at the end of the world it seems unwise to accept favors from strangers. He says his name is Brian; I’m not sure why I don’t believe him. There is no reason to lie about our names out here. Maybe it’s that superstitious part of me that grew up on fairy tales that says I shouldn’t give him my own real name. Maybe it’s in our blood, the rules of magic. I think it’s a good instinct, in these strange times. I told him my name was Morgan. We’ve been traveling together for about three days. Some things are easier, like finding food. He’s good at that. I had time to study the survival book (why didn’t I put fishing line in the Apocalypse box? Why?!) so between the two of us I think we’re not going to starve. I don’t like him, though–he’s an arrogant prick. I was starved for company but now I just wish he’d shut up.

We used to joke about how some day the world would be ours. It seemed so possible, didn’t it? Everything we attempted together just worked. We were going to be together permanently soon.

Instead the world is empty, and we’re further apart than we’ve ever been.

#

September 17

How many miles to Wichita? Three score and ten. Can I get there by candlelight? Yes, there and back again.

How many really? Too many. I’d give anything for a magic ring or a pair of Seven League Boots right now.

#

September 19

They took Brian. We had left the road, to stay safer at night, and I was off tying the horse. Two of them came from above, with a rush of wings and a sound like–a sound like voices, a thousand voices, voices that resonated in my bones.

I ran like hell into the trees. By the time I stopped I was totally disoriented. I waited for daylight. When I found the camp again, the tree-tops around our camp were burnt black as an angel’s wing. The horse was where I left her, but Brian was gone.

Apart from the ring of charred trees there was no other sign of them. Again I’m reminded of the fairy tales we grew up on, and I wonder if it wasn’t the angels that inspired the tales of fire-breathing dragons.

How long have they been here, and where have they been hiding?

#

September 23

According to the map I’m now 17 towns away from you.

I shouldn’t think that way. You may not be there. You may have died that first week, or on the road on your way to Wichita. I should probably assume you did; if you didn’t then you’re an anomaly like I am.

So many things that I didn’t tell you. How far we can walk in a day, how long it will take to reach each other. That I hoped you would marry me, eventually–no, that’s a lie, I hoped that you would marry me soon. That I used to hear voices.

That I had seen the angels before.

Would it increase your chances of surviving them if you knew? Or would you have thought I was crazy, and left me? Or thought I was crazy and try to get me help? Or would you believe me, and live life a little more afraid, the way that I did?

There was a quake in 1978. I was at my friend’s house, in her bedroom on the second floor. The windows rattled; the whole house swayed. We could see the water sloshed out of the pool through her window. It wasn’t much of a quake, not compared to what we just went through, but the experience terrified me.

I guess I thought I was having a nightmare that night when it appeared at my window, black except where the golden glow from its core leaked out, through its eyes, the webs between its fingers, its mouth. It just stared at me through the window and I could do nothing but stare back, afraid to move, afraid to scream, paralyzed in my seven-year-old fear.

That was one of the many things you gave to me, that you didn’t even know–I felt safe from them when I was with you. For the first time in my life I finally felt safe. The nightmares didn’t come when you were beside me.

You know that feeling you get when you suspect that you’ve done something really, profoundly wrong? That ice-water sick feeling that drains the blood from your head and knocks you to your knees, and you just hope it’s a mistake, and believe on some level that it must be, because you couldn’t possibly have done something so wrong?

I have that feeling tonight.

I have to get to you.

Please, please be alive.

#

September 24

Hundreds, I think. None at all for several nights, and now there are so many that they block out the stars. I can see their red-gold glow. I smell smoke.

I think they’re looking for me.

#

September 27

They’re watching me as I write this. I think the one closest to me used to be Brian. I see other faces that look familiar. Thank whatever gods there may be that none of them look like yours.

I can hear the voices again, feel them. Their mouths don’t move, but I’m certain it’s them I’m hearing. Sometimes I think I can almost isolate one from the rest, but then it all becomes noise again, murmured nonsense.

They aren’t moving. They don’t seem inclined to hurt me. They look like they’re waiting. For what? For me to do something? For me to speak? To ask them what they are, what they want?

#

            September 28

They’re gone, the voices are gone, and I can think again, move again, breathe again. Nothing changed all night–they stood there looking at me, waiting for what I’m not sure.

The one I saw when I was a child did the same thing. Just looked at me, waiting. When I think back it seems almost as if there was a look of expectation, like it thought I had been waiting for it; memory is tricky, though, and the more you revisit a memory the less accurate it becomes. We add details that weren’t there, things that might have made sense but didn’t really happen. So perhaps that’s what I’m doing. Just trying to make it make sense.

In my childish reasoning, I did the only thing I could do–the only thing you can do with the monster under the bed, or the bogeyman in the closet, or the angel at your window with eyes like burning coals and a face like cooling embers. I told it to go away.

It opened its mouth, and it seemed confused and almost disappointed. But it did what I said. It went away.

They took Brian. They took everyone. Why didn’t they take me? Why did the angel turn away, confused, all those years ago?

The worst part of this for me is not the hunger, the exhaustion, or the loneliness. It’s not the hardship or the fear. It’s not even the fact that the world as we knew it has come to an end, and all my nightmares have become real. It’s the fact that I’m pretty sure it’s my fault.

Every time I think of it I’m dizzy and sick. I’m responsible. I summoned them all those years ago. I didn’t know it then, but that hardly matters now. Everyone in the world is dead, or else transformed–which is as good as dead or maybe even worse–and it’s my fault.

I play with the knife from your birthday box and think about how much easier it would be to just kill myself and get it over with, but I can’t risk it. You may still be alive.

For now, I’d better make the best time I can. The road here is tree-lined and shady. I suppose I’ll know more when the sun goes down.

#

Later.

They brought me rabbits. A lot of them. The air is filled with the acrid smell of burnt hair from where they gripped them in their hands. They knew I was hungry. So I looked up how to skin an animal and did the best I could. I made a mess of it, and I can’t say it tasted very good, but my head has stopped hurting and my stomach doesn’t feel like it’s trying to eat my back bone anymore.

They’ve spread out a little this time, but they still have me surrounded. I’m considering just trying to walk through them and continue down the road. I think they would let me.

The sound of voices comes and goes; it’s almost like trying to tune an old radio with knobs and dials. If I move a certain way I’m overwhelmed by them, but if I tilt my head just a little sometimes one will come clear for a moment. But then I shake my head because what I hear them saying is too unbelievable, and I lose it again.

They never take their eyes off me. I think they’re waiting for me to tell them what to do.

#

September 29

I couldn’t stand it, the way they were looking at me. I just–I don’t know, I broke. I screamed at them; I threw rocks. They just stood there, stoic, waiting.

So I left. They stepped aside to let me pass, and then they followed me. So I screamed again, and told them to stop–and they did. Stopped in their tracks, the grass burning beneath their feet. I kept walking, looking back every few yards to make sure they were still there. They never moved from where I told them to stay.

Eventually I turned back.

I think I understand. Now I’m the one watching them.

#

September 30

They tell me that you’re alive. I’m sending one of them ahead, with this notebook, and the box.

They heard me, all those years ago. They listened to my fears and my dreams. They heard the anger of a child who had lost everything, telling them how the world would be if she were in charge; no one would leave her because there would be no one else in the world, just her and the people she loves. They were trapped, with no one but me to tell them about the world above, and now that they’re free they have given me what I said I wanted.

Do not be afraid, love. Do not run. Their touch burns, and if you run, they will bring you back to me.

We made so many plans, you and I. We always felt invincible together, like we could do anything at all. I always said I would give you the world if I could.

I couldn’t have known that it would one day be mine to give.

##

Play
First appeared in Shimmer #16, January 2013.
Episode Art:  Jerel Dye

Twabble:  “The tortured screams of the people dying in agony are muffled by thumping Swedish disco music, here in my ABBA-ttoir... ”  by  Chris Munroe


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