Last Minute Shopping

Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 8

Challenge #4: Write a story in which a first person narrator witnesses what they  think is the end of the world.

It had been an unremarkable Tuesday at the petrol station until Pestilence—of Four Horsemen fame—came in and started leafing through a magazine. He didn’t exactly have a “Hello, my name is…” tag pinned to his robe, but it was pretty obvious to look at him. Limp hair, pale, pock-marked face, bow legs…it was like he had every disease in the world, and was only alive because all of them were tripping over each other trying to kill him. “Three Stooges Syndrome,” I think they call it. But that probably wasn’t it.

He must have realised I was staring because he said: “Sorry. I know this isn’t, like, a library, but I sent a letter in to the Agony Aunt a while back and I want to see if they’ve printed a response.”

“Oh, right,” I said. “No, that’s okay.” As a rule, I didn’t take issue with people having a quick skim of the Sports section or just checking what the articles were. I might have taken issue with people’s mangy horses dripping eye gunk into the plastic crate of apples by the door, but in this particular case it seemed wisest not to draw attention to it.

I took a look around the shop, like “Is anyone else seeing this?” but most of the customers were on their way out. The reason was pretty obvious.

“Jesus Christ, dude,” said one guy, hand over his mouth, “you smell like death.”

“I get that a lot,” said Pestilence. “I’m starting to think we use the same deodorant or something.”

I’m pretty sure that guy hadn’t actually seen who he was talking to until then, because at that moment he did a double take, made it a triple take just to be sure, then dashed into the automatic doors, knocking himself out. The doors opened with a merry “Ping!” noise, waited a bit, then closed dejectedly.

I took a few shallow breaths, trying to work out if there was anything I should be doing right now. Frantic prayer seemed like a good option, but at the same time I wasn’t sure it counted if your only reason for doing it was that the Apocalypse had already started. If it did count at this point, I decided, that wouldn’t be fair to everyone who’d died without getting this kind of massive hint, and so I abstained on moral grounds. Also because I was feeling a bit dizzy at this point and was afraid I might pass out and hit my head on the corner of the till. I could picture my entrance to the afterlife going like this:

Saint Peter: “Hello Rick.”

Me: “Wow—you already know my name?”

Saint Peter: “Not usually, no, but you died wearing one of those ‘Hello, my name is…’ tags. That’s pretty lame.”

Me: “Ouch. I thought you were supposed to be a saint.”

Saint Peter: “I am, but given that it’s the apocalypse and most people die punching thirty demons while gargling mead I think your lameness is extreme enough to warrant comment. But at least you won’t have to keep introducing yourself in Hell, where you’re going despite having seen one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse first hand. I would have figured that would be your cue to start praying, but hey, what’s done is done.”

Me: “Hey, I’ll have you know I decided not to do that on moral grounds. It totally wouldn’t be fair to everyone who didn’t see one of the four horsemen.”

Saint Peter: “Oh, boo-hoo. Don’t be such a martyr.”

And then obviously he, like, pulls a lever and there’s a trapdoor or something. To be honest, I was aware at the time that it was quite an odd little exchange to imagine just then, and it seemed likely that the horseman fumes rapidly filling the shop were making me hallucinate.

I stumbled over to the window and opened it as far as it would go. Just then, an impossibly muscular man galloped past on a Clydesdale, firing twin miniguns into the air and shouting “YEEEEEEEAH!!!” as he did so.

Pestilence walked off towards the big cooling cabinets, then came back with four pints of milk. “Famine keeps bugging me because I drank some of his. Apparently that’s a really big deal for some reason.” His breath was even worse than his everyday apocalyptic stench. “I don’t see why. I don’t think he even uses it.”

I scanned the barcode. Feeling that building a rapport with this guy would probably help my chances of survival, I fought the urge to chunder and tried to make smalltalk. “No luck with the Agony Aunt, then?”

“No.” He sounded glum.

“What did you write in about?”

“I’m trying to find a girlfriend, but it’s not going well. I’ve got, well…all the STDs. Frankly.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.” He drummed his soggy fingers on the countertop.

That hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped.

“Can I get these as well?” he asked, holding up a pack of throat lozenges.

“Sure!” I smiled, desperate to salvage what was probably my last chance not to get splattered into chunky salsa in an epic battle between good and evil that I really didn’t have that much riding on, if I was honest. “I guess you’ve got to be on top form just now, right?”

“Huh?” He looked at me blankly.

“You know. With the whole End of Days thing.”

“Oh, that!” He laughed, slapping his thigh with a horrible squelching sound. “That’s not happening for at least another six hundred million years.”

“Oh.” That certainly took the pressure off. “So why are you here?”

“Me and the guys are going to see Mamma Mia.”

I really hadn’t expected to hear that. “Sounds nice.”

“Yeah! Should be good. Well, see you around!”

“See ya!”

As he rode off down the road, I took a look at the crate of putrefied apples by the door. Apocalypse or no Apocalypse, I really hoped I wouldn’t see him around.


If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from Flash Fiction Month 2012 and 2013 collected in OCR is Not the Only Font and Red Herring respectively.

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