I recently started reviewing my website traffic and realized the Chapters sub-category under Blog was getting a lot of readership. It seems people want to sample my wares before they buy. Fair enough. Without any further adieu, please find below a sample of The End is Nigh, my latest post-apocalyptic thriller. Modesty aside, it’s received rave reviews and has wowed many readers.
First, here’s a short summary:
Cray Lenning’s life as a garbage collector in a small town is reclusive and boring. Burdened with strong feelings of distrust and resentment, he’s content to wallow in lonely self-pity. But when he witnesses a defrocked preacher proclaim “The end is nigh” seconds before getting struck by a car, Cray’s world spirals out of control.
Initially, Cray dismisses the wayward preacher as a wacko, but ominous signs begin to convince him otherwise. Enter Sandra Colling, a heartbroken but resolute nurse. Together, they build an underground shelter to try and survive a deadly inferno blazing across the country, and embark on a frantic mission to save others. Trapped inside the shelter, they learn the terrifying reality of their choices: a traumatized police detective; a manipulative and self-righteous psychologist; a sadomasochistic sex-addict; a rambling, alcoholic preacher; and a mentally ill redneck with an explosive temper.
Their dire predicament worsens when water runs out and they’re forced to emerge from the shelter. To survive in this God-forsaken wasteland, they must form an unlikely alliance and battle a far more deadly presence topside—a gang of ruthless escaped convicts, hell-bent on starting an evil polygamist cult that rules by fear, intimidation, and brutal murder.
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You got this. Relax. But Pastor Jonathon Brackley couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that this sermon would not go to plan. He was nervous, fidgety, and unsure about how the congregants would respond. He clasped his hands together, trying to hide the twitching of his fingers as he stepped up to the pulpit on a dark and cloudy Sunday morning. Tapping the microphone, he misstepped, staggered and swayed, and then put a hand on the mahogany platform and the Holy Bible for support. The Bible, more than the mahogany, gave him comfort and strength.
A murmur rolled through the packed church, echoed eerily, and subsided.
Pastor Jon cleared his throat. Feedback screeched from the microphone. Stopped. The worshippers murmured, a little louder this time. A baby tucked into her mother’s bosom in the first row began crying. The mother, with hushed niceties, tried to silence the pinkly-clad infant. Soft sobs turned into a loud wailing cry—“Whah, whaaah, whaaaah… whaaaaaaaaah!” The mother flushed, rose quickly, and left with the baby.
As the heavy oak entrance door thudded shut ominously, the baby’s cries grew faint, and Pastor Jon cleared his throat a second time. No feedback. No murmurs. No crying baby. Only silence and attentive eyes.
He looked out at the congregants, nodding fondly as he spotted some of his friends. He didn’t know if they were ready, if he was even ready. But one thing he did know. This would probably be his last sermon, so they better be ready. He better be ready. Lately, due to the controversial nature of his sermons, his superiors in the clergy were fast becoming alienated from him. More than just alienated, actually. Downright angry and offended. The comment from senior Pastor Gary Ellington before this morning’s sermon couldn’t have been more direct: “If you don’t tone it down, stop this doom and gloom talk, we’ll have no choice but to defrock you. Keep it upbeat. That’s what people want to hear. Give them what they want. And stay off the wine… at least while you’re preaching.”
But Pastor Jon hadn’t toned downed his sermons. Nor had he stayed off the booze. It was all he could do to cope with his disturbing visions of late. And his failing marriage. Earlier this morning, in spite of admonitions from his disgruntled wife, he’d polished off a bottle of Chilean red wine. His justification—the Bible was full of wine references. Jesus had even turned water into wine at a wedding. Of course, that didn’t prove He drank the wine, but it would have been perfectly normal for Him to do so. It did prove, at least to Pastor Jon’s logic, that Jesus didn’t condemn drinking wine any more than He condemned drinking water. Pastor Jon took his theory one step further, actually, believing Jesus was not only a wine drinker, but an excessive one. Maybe even a drunkard. Water to wine. Never mind. Get going…
He cleared his throat. “Thank you all for coming this morning. Today I want to talk about the Book of Revelation. Specifically, I want to talk about a vision I had last night that relates to Revelation.” He waited for the whispered murmur to die down before continuing. “As you all know, my name is Jon. According to Revelation, one day around the year 95 AD, a man named John had a vision from Heaven. Well, last night, I too had a vision, which I believe to be a vision from Heaven. Maybe epiphany is a better word.” His voice had started off as a low, slow, monotone droll. But as he talked, it gained volume, speed, passion, and conviction. “I’m guessing some of you might be curious as to what that vision might be about?” A pause. “It has to do with The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath. Revelation 15:1 – 16:21.”
He paused again, listening to pages shuffling as the congregants found their reference points. “John sees seven angels with seven bowls filled with God’s wrath. He hears a voice, telling the angels to empty out the disaster-filled bowls one at a time upon the Earth. Now, this is the part you might find hard to believe… but I tell you to warn you. I tell you to save you. I’ve been directed by God! I saw the angels, I heard the voice telling the angels to destroy the world.”
Thunder boomed overhead. A few people stirred. The rain came, slow at first, then torrential, tapping on roof and windows like so many nails in a coffin. A young couple seated at the back row got up and left. Pastor Jon waited until the thunder stopped, and once the heavy wood and metal door had thudded shut a second time, he continued: “Let’s talk about the bowls of God’s wrath. The angel poured out the first bowl on the Earth. Ugly and painful sores broke out on the worshippers of the devil. Look at the rampant spread of disease today: Ebola, Zika, Swine-Flu, Aids, common flu viruses mutating, getting stronger, killing people, becoming immune to treatment.”
He found his place in the Bible and quoted from the text: “‘The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood, like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died.’ Look at what we do to our oceans. Reckless oil companies, irresponsible government, common people polluting and killing our eco-system. Killing us.”
A middle-aged man seated near the back rose and turned to leave. “No, don’t go. Stay and listen. The end is nigh. Prepare yourself.”
“You’re a fucking nutcase,” the man said, and stormed out.
Like a rising swell in turbulent ocean waters, a loud murmur swept through the church. Then grunts, throats clearing, gasps, followed by derogatory comments. “Something’s wrong with him… He’s lost his mind… He never had it… I’m not gonna listen to this shit… Fucking bullshit, you ask me.”
“Quiet, please,” Pastor Jon said, gesturing with outstretched hands. “Hear me out. That’s all I ask.”
Silence settled over the church. He continued reading aloud: “‘The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.’ More pollution. More human negligence. The world is full of it and God has decided we need a cleansing. I now come to the fourth angel, and the most powerful and evocative image in my vision. If you listen to nothing else I say, listen to this. ‘The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify Him.’”
Pastor Jon coughed, took a sip of water—water to wine, water to wine—and resumed: “There are forest fires burning out of control as we speak. They will worsen. They will spread and devour our entire planet. The devil’s insidiousness has permeated the very fabric of our culture. He is in our thoughts, heaven forbid, in our prayers, and in our deeds. Cast him out and save yourself.”
“How do you propose we do that?” Ron Baxter shouted. Pastor Jon recognized the voice and spotted his one-time-friend-turned-acquaintance standing up in the third row. The obese, black-bearded man’s brow was furrowed and he rubbed the creases with a hand in an attempt to smooth them out.
“I’m getting there, Ronnie. Sit down. Be patient. Please.” Pastor Jon had planned on outlining each of the bowls of wrath in detail, referencing them with a corresponding modern day man-made calamity. Now, he realized, he was going to have to cut this sermon short if he had any hope of reaching the congregation. Too many naysayers. If he continued at this pace, he would lose half, if not all, before he properly prepared them for the end of the world. In any event, at least he had gotten to number four, the most important according to his epiphany. “Reaffirm your vows to God. Repent your sins. Go home and pray. Denounce the devil and his ways so you might be spared…”
Thunder boomed and the church trembled. A lightning bolt smashed through a large, oval-shaped stained-glass window in the peaked-roof temple of God. People started screaming, some fleeing, as shards of glass rained down on them. The lightning bolt forked and struck a white-robed Jesus statue. The lightning buzzed, circled the statue, shot through its arm, and blasted out from the pointed finger of Jesus like a well-aimed laser gun. The powerful bolt then struck a wooden church pew. It burst into flames. Pandemonium erupted and people fled en masse.
“You have one year,” Pastor Jon shouted after the fleeing mobs. “One year to the day. The world will burn in one year. Dig a cave, stock it with supplies, and wait. You will be told when it’s time to emerge. The end is nigh… prepare yourself!”
“I’m sick of all these conspiracy theories. The world is not gonna end soon, and I’m gonna keep on doing what I do best.” Even as Cray Lenning said the words, he wasn’t sure what they meant, or at least wasn’t sure what the latter part meant. What do I do best? He eyeballed his friend Mike Timble across the table of an outdoor patio in front of a Starbucks coffee shop in downtown Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
I do my job best. That’s what I do.
Cray sighed. Maybe he did do his job best. But his job, a garbage collector in the small city, had become mundane. Uneventful, unexciting, unfulfilling. Boring, actually.
Four years ago, after discovering his long-time girlfriend Emma Thymes fucking his so-called best friend Greg Smallton, Cray had lost interest in people and relationships. Friends and lovers… they can go fuck themselves. They burn your trust. Burned by love, he had become cowardly concerning romance. He was unwilling to approach women for fear of rejection or, worse still, infidelity. Emma had ruthlessly ripped his heart from his chest. But never again. Never would he give someone that opportunity again.
Maybe that’s why he was sick of Mike’s conspiracy theories. Maybe he was sick of his own life—his own attitude—and taking it out on Mike. It’s your shit. But no, it was more than that. Had to be more than that. Mike’s theories were asinine. He had just told Cray that in his infinite wisdom the world would come to an end on Thursday, June 30th. Today was June 1st.
But Mike was insistent. “I’m telling you, this isn’t another one of what you call my lame-brained conspiracy theories. This is the truth.”
Cray sipped his coffee and gazed momentarily out at the passing traffic and pedestrians on Queen Street that sunny afternoon. “What do you mean ‘truth’? It hasn’t come true yet.”
“No, but it will. Mark my words.”
“Let’s just say for a second there is a shred of truth to your theory—which frankly we both know isn’t the case—where did you acquire these prophetic words of wisdom from?”
“Someone told me. Then something else happened that confirmed it. Then I had a dream that confirmed it.”
“Some wacko told you? Who? A dream? You think just because some nutcase told you and you had a dream that it’s gonna come true?”
Mike was becoming irritated. He squeezed his empty paper coffee cup, pushed it on the table. It tipped over and rolled onto the sidewalk. He ignored it. “Oh, forget it, Cray. You’re not gonna believe me. Sometimes I don’t even know why I bother.”
“Bother with what? Telling me shit?”
“Even living, for fuck sakes. What’s the point? The world’s gonna end soon anyway and my life sucks.”
“Sorry, Mike. Don’t talk like that. Please.”
Mike scratched his two-day stubble and adjusted his baseball cap. He always did that when he was rattled or confused. He pointed across the street to an old, scraggly-haired, disheveled man—street beggar-bum—wheeling a shopping cart. It was stuffed with all kinds of goodies; at least goodies to him. “Shit, that’s him.”
“The man. The preacher I met.”
“What—” Cray didn’t have a chance to finish.
The man suddenly stopped, reached into his shopping cart, and extracted a sign. He released the cart. Unattended, it careened down the sidewalk, causing two pedestrians to deftly step out of its way.
Holding up the sign, the man, with speed belying his years, ran across the street. But ten feet from the sidewalk patio where Cray sat, a newer model Toyota Camry, pulling away from the curb, struck him. He flew back, landing with a thud as his head slammed into the asphalt surface. His hands still gripped the sign tightly.
Cray ran to his aid but stopped short. The offending motorist had already stopped, climbed out of his vehicle, and knelt down beside the man. Troubled, he scanned the faces of the gathering onlookers. “Someone call 911. He came out of nowhere.”
As Cray neared, he saw the pool of blood fanning out around the man’s head, dark red on black asphalt. His eyes were closed, expression sullen, leathery face ashen. Dead or unconscious, Cray didn’t know.
Cray turned around. Mike was frozen in his seat, expression sullen, pockmarked face ashen.
“He’s moving,” someone said. “Stand back.”
The man’s eyes opened wide. He lifted his head. His steel blue eyes locked onto Cray. He lifted the sign and repeated its proclamation scrawled in black on white cardboard. “The end is nigh! The end is nigh! Prepare yourself!”
Then he dropped the sign, fell back, slamming his head on the road a second time. His eyes rolled in his head, then closed. He grew still. Deathly still.
The end is nigh, all right buddy. At least for you. Cray was embarrassed and ashamed that a small smile actually played across his lips at those thoughts. He quickly wiped it away. It was replaced by a somber expression, a feeling of remorse and sadness for the poor bastard stretched out on the road, probably dead. But those feelings were intermingled with something else: a nagging, troubling, fearful feeling that something wasn’t quite right in the world anymore.
A crazy coincidence. That’s all.
Cray glanced back. Mike had disappeared.
More spectators began to gather. An ambulance siren blared. A cop car approached and stopped in the middle of the street, blocking traffic. Two cops got out. One knelt down to the victim while the other began questioning bystanders and surveying the damage.
A middle-aged woman, dressed in frumpy gray sweatpants and an oversized white sweatshirt with a pink elephant on the front, approached Cray. She had a little boy in hand who slurped an ice cream cone, white melting rivulets streaming down his chin, onto his clothes, dribbling onto the sidewalk. She touched Cray’s arm. “Do you know him?”
An ambulance stopped at the scene. The shrill siren died. Two paramedics got out, one removing a stretcher from the back.
She pointed to the man, who was now being carefully examined by the paramedics.
“No, never seen him before. Why?”
“He stared right at you. As if he was giving his death message directly to you.”
The ice cream-carrying boy moved closer to Cray, oblivious to the bloody accident scene. He slurped the ice cream and held it up to Cray. Small white drops sprayed onto Cray’s blue jeans and black tennis shoes.
“Do you want some?” the boy asked.
Cray stepped back, out of melted ice cream range. “No thanks.” Morbid thoughts pressed into his mind. White light, red blood, black dawn. He shuddered.
“Josh, watch yourself,” the woman said. “You’re getting it all over him.” She pulled Josh closer to her side. Ice cream drops dribbled down her already stained gray sweatpants. Oblivious, she turned to Cray. “Did you see it?”
Cray nodded nervously. “I gotta go.”
She touched his arm. “Wait. You’re a witness. They might want to talk to you.”
Cray noticed a male cop, who had been questioning other spectators, glance curiously at him.
Without knowing why, Cray turned and ran, sprinting down the street and weaving around pedestrians on that beautiful Tuesday afternoon. A block and a half later, he stopped and glanced back, almost expecting the cops to be in hot pursuit. They weren’t, but he could barely see the old man being hoisted onto a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. Who is he? And what does he know?
He knows, Mike thought that evening as he sat in his humble apartment two blocks away from Cray in downtown Charlottetown. He knows we’re all gonna die. He knows the future.
He had arrived home two hours ago and started taking stock of his life. Cray had called twice. He ignored both calls. Fucker doesn’t wanna believe me. I tried to warn him. He won’t listen. Fuck him. He can go and fuck himself, all I care.
But it wasn’t only Cray. He had told his mother Edith the story a few days ago. She wanted to have him examined by a psychiatrist. “You’re full of stupid conspiracy theories. Why don’t you go out and get yourself a job instead of worrying about the end of the world? I raised you to work hard and all you do is sit around watching TV and collecting social assistance.”
Easy for her to say. She grew up in a generation where if she didn’t work, she would starve. So she forged a successful nursing career until her recent retirement. Now her title was cynic and potato farmer’s wife. For a nurse, a career dedicated to caregiving, she certainly didn’t seem to give a shit about her only son. More than that, Edith was downright abusive to Mike. At least for the last two years, when her expectations that he would become a doctor were shattered after he was caught drinking during a lecture and expelled. Would have happened sooner or later anyway. It was his first year of university and he’d only lasted four months. His marks were shit. Lack of concentration. Lack of focus. “Doesn’t apply himself.” So they said, anyway. Well, they can fuck themselves. And so can Edith.
Mike moved a kitchen chair to the middle of the living room and stared up at the ceiling.
His father Thane was a little more sympathetic, but seemed equally doubtful of the veracity of the prediction. “I don’t know, son. It sounds a little farfetched to me. People have been predicting the end of the world since the beginning of time, and none of them have gotten it right. And besides, we’re all gonna die sooner or later. And none of us know when. So, we may as well make the best of it.” Handing Mike a sack of potatoes. “Here, gimme a hand with these, will ya. Try and take your mind of that stuff. It ain’t good for ya.”
So Mike took the potatoes, helped his father, and dropped the doomsday prophecy. At least for the time being. But it kept rearing its ugly head. Little voices kept telling him to get his affairs in order. Sorry, Dad. You’re gonna die in the apocalypse. I’ll miss you.
Holding a small handsaw, Mike stood on the chair and cut away a small circle in the ceiling. He examined the cast iron pipe underneath. Hope it’s strong enough.
When Mike met Pastor Jonathon Brackley a week ago, whom he now revered as a doomsday prophet, he did what few others would. He listened to the old man with the shopping cart. Bought him a bottle of rum. Sat in a park with him and drank it. Got drunk. Learned the man’s story. Although his theories had resulted in the loss of his preacher job, Pastor Jon, as he preferred to be called, would not let it go. Even though the repeated prophecies also resulted in a separation from his long-time wife and an estrangement from two adult sons, Pastor Jon hit the streets of his hometown, Moncton, New Brunswick, proselytizing to anyone who would listen. “The end is nigh. Prepare yourself.” Of course most people—99.9 percent—brushed him off as a lunatic and ignored him, even ridiculed and shunned him. Over time the frustration became unbearable. Hardly anyone would listen. So Pastor Jon took refuge in the bottle, drained his finances, and ended up living on the streets. When the nastiness in Moncton got too much to bear, he relocated to Charlottetown to preach his message, or “save the few who will listen.”
Mike began tying a rope around the exposed cast iron pipe. He tugged it. It’ll hold.
At first Mike had his doubts. But the reoccurring signs, signs that Pastor Jon had said would prove the truthfulness of his predictions, soon convinced him. Pastor Jon had said three things would happen to Mike after that fateful meeting in the park. The first one happened fifteen minutes after leaving the park. A crow swooped down low, circled Mike’s head twice, just as predicted, then promptly shit on it. The following evening Mike had a nightmare, again, as predicted. In it, a massive fireball engulfed the Earth. Horrific screams of dying people, the terrifying shrieks of dying animals; cars, buildings, infrastructure exploding everywhere. Mike tried to outrun the flames, searching for the hole, the underground shelter that Pastor Jon had told him to dig, the one that would protect him from the massive destruction. But, when he found it, it wasn’t what he remembered. It was only three feet deep, clearly not enough to protect one from such a lethal fireball. Terrified and with no options remaining, Mike took refuge in the hole, watched the Earth burn to the ground around him for a few horrifying seconds until the fireball engulfed him, fried and sizzled him like a pesky wasp.
Mike tugged on the rope, cinched it tight around the plumbing pipe. He sat down and began working the other end.
But the third sign was the clincher. The one that had made him run away scared. The one that happened only a few hours ago. Pastor Jon had been clear. “When you see me get struck down, and die, the end is nigh. Take refuge in the hole. Count the days. Stay there for ninety days and then come to the surface. My tribesmen will be there. They will help you rebuild.”
“What about you?” Mike had asked.
Pastor Jon had in one large pull drained the bottle, looked at Mike sorrowfully, and said, “I don’t care about me anymore. My life is over. Look at me.”
Only problem was, Mike had not been able to find a hole or underground shelter; other than the shallow one in his nightmare that had become his fiery grave. Although he had tried to find one. Not wanting to wait until the final prediction, he had, stoned out of his mind one night, driven to what he thought was crown land, a government-owned forest, stolen a backhoe from a nearby farmstead, and started digging out an abandoned well in an attempt to make his refuge from the coming apocalypse. Three hours and forty feet down, he was accosted by an angry farmer, pointing a double-barreled shotgun at his head and threatening to kill him. The result, three charges: theft, trespassing, and destruction of private property.
Mike finished the noose, wrapped it around his neck, and snugged it tight. Satisfied, he climbed onto the chair and stood up.
He lit up a joint and inhaled deeply, surveying the messy living room as the reassuring buzz seeped into his brain and dulled his senses. Take-out cartons littered the coffee table. Some had spilled over onto the stained carpet. He took a few more tokes, enjoying the comforting numbness. At least I won’t have to make my court date.
Before this moment, Mike had often wondered what his last thoughts might be. And it didn’t surprise him they would return to Sybil Saunders. She, after all, had been his only true love. But when Mike couldn’t hold down a steady job, nor a steady education, she had disappeared like a bat out of hell. Another toke. Exhale. Bat out of hell. Shit, can’t you come up with anything more original than that?
But as his mind cinema replayed the two-year union with Sybil, he realized he couldn’t blame her. She was twenty-eight. He, thirty-two. It was time for him to grow up and take life seriously. Toke. Exhale. For any woman to take him seriously, he would have to demonstrate the ability to provide emotionally, spiritually, and financially. Hell, he could hardly provide for himself, let alone a significant other. Toke. Exhale. Fucking loser.
“It doesn’t matter. The world is doomed. I sure as hell can’t survive in a fucking wasteland. I can barely survive here, for fuck sakes.”
Toke. Exhale. He flicked the joint away. It skipped off the hardwood, landed on a Chinese take-out container and started smoking.
Seeing it, he laughed. “Typical. Burn in Hell, motherfucker! You can all go and burn in Hell, motherfuckers!”
He kicked the chair over. The pipe creaked and groaned, but held. He dropped, abruptly halted by the force of the noose tightening around his neck. His body dangled about five inches from the floor. Perfect. His neck tightened. Bulged. He gasped and emitted a gurgling sound. He felt his face redden, eyes bulge, a tremendous painful force gripping his neck, the stinging of rope burns. His world grew dark. Yes, it’s time. It’s finally time to end my miserable existence.
As life drained from his body and mind, and his vision began to blur, he surveyed the room, and saw it: a greeting card. From Sybil. Probably a birthday card, since his birthday was a week away. Maybe she wants to get back together. Oh shit, what if she wants to get back together?
In an instant, Mike changed his mind. He didn’t want to die now, at least not until he’d read Sybil’s happy birthday message. He tried to raise his arms, reach the rope, and break the goddamned pipe from the ceiling. But his weakening arms would not obey brain commands. He tried to shout out to anyone who would listen but had no voice. The rope was too tight, too constricting.
He wriggled his feet, struggling to grab the rope, struggling to shout out. All in vain. No use. As a terrible blackness encompassed him, he saw the Chinese take-out carton, the one with the smoking joint, burst into flames. The flames fanned out quickly, devouring the old red shag carpet.
In the blackness, Mike saw fiery red. In the redness, Mike saw death.
Pleeeease! I don’t wanna die. Noooooo… nooo… noo… no…
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