The pub was full, the chairs all filled with sweating bums, but all the tabletops were empty.
Men, women, children, dogs, and feral cats, all were cooped in the urine scented establishment, pressed shoulder to shoulder, fanning themselves with hands and newspapers, no one talking; all simply watching the world outside the big front window, and wondering what it all meant.
The greasy barman, Cheddly, stopped asking if anyone needed a drink long ago, and stood polishing a single glass over and over. The only person drinking was Sepin.
She was the usual at this pub. Every day, exactly when the doors opened she would come into the Garden Rose and sit on the same stool at the bar, her back to the giant windows that dominated the front of the pub. She’d put her purse in the same place on the bar top, remove her wallet and tuck it into her cleavage, and then wait for Cheddly to pour her usual drink:
A double of a bottom shelf whiskey blend called “Quality Label”. It tasted like shit, burnt like hell, smelled like poison, and it did what she needed; dulled her senses, and didn’t break the bank.
Shot after shot after shot was sipped, each with a shudder, each burning just a little less than the last, and she kept it up til the lunch hour passed. Then she’d toss a twenty on the bar, snatch up her purse, and sway to the door.
Normally, the pub was empty until the happy hour specials kicked in. It was Tuesday when the pub was filled wall-to-wall with people, when the world outside wasn’t right; Long Island Iced Teas, 2 for $6. This special was a popular one, especially with the younger crowd, and it would kick in in only ten minutes. Cheddly got the feeling that today he wouldn’t sell a single one.
Not with all the was going on outside.
“Do you think it will end soon?” someone asked on one side of the pub.
No one answered. No one was as hopeful as the one who’d asked.
They’d all gotten inside shortly after it started. They’d all gotten out of the horror of the world that lay on the other side of the rusty hinged pub doors. Most weren’t as lucky as they’d been.
Even as they watched, a man was running towards the pub. His clothes were soaked, his eyes wide, locked on the door to the pub, desperation leaking from every pore in his face.
“Think he’ll make it?”
“He’s too far away.”
“He could still make it.”
“But look at how wet he is.”
“We were wet.”
“Not that wet.”
“Maybe he’ll make it.”
“Nah, he won’t.”
“Maybe he will.”
“Yeah, he’s running pretty quick. He could make it.”
“Yeah, I think he’ll make it.”
“Me too. He’ll make it.”
They watched the man outside, on the other side of the street, approach the road. He hesitated a moment, held pivoting to look both ways before charging across the dry pavement. It was a slight hesitation, a giving into the lessons of his childhood (“Look both ways before crossing the street!”) and it cost him.
“See, he’s a fast runner. He’ll make it.”
Ten feet away, leaping through the air to land on the sidewalk in front of the pub, he stopped. Mid-air. Frozen. Face petrified in a mush of determination and desperation, tongue sticking out.
“He was pretty close,” someone near the back of the pub commented.
No one felt they needed to elaborate.
He had been close.
Closer than any of the others they’d watched.
Close enough that they could see the intricacies of his death. This close to the grand windows, this close to the dismal audience, everyone could see the small bubbles forming in his skin. They watched the fizzy welts begin to gather, meshing into larger quivering boils, then gather into even larger bubbles—growing, growing, growing—until, with a hiss that those closest to the window could clearly hear, they detached from the frozen man and floated to the sky, leaving a bleeding pocket of emptiness in their wake.
All over his body, as he hung frozen in the air, the bubbles formed, amassed, detached, and floated to the blood red clouds that hung over the world. In a near constant stream, the bubbles streamed upward, leaving nothing behind.
“There’s nothing left.”
“He was so close.”
“The others were so far off, I couldn’t tell if there was anything left or not.”
“There’s nothing left of him.”
“He was so close.”
“Even his clothes are gone.”
“Wasn’t fast enough.”
“Mommy, is that what’s going to happen to all of us?”
A sniffle. A gut wrenching moan of realization. A shuddering breath of a silent sob.
And the clatter of Sepin’s tumbler meeting the rough wood of the bar top.
“One more,” she slurred.
Cheddly’s eyes were fixated where the desperate, floating, frozen, bubbling, dying man had been. He didn’t hear her.
“Oi, Ched. One more,” Sepin barked. It wasn’t a loud yell, but it might as well have been a bomb blast in the dead quiet of the pub. Some looked at her, eyes rimmed red in fear, in confusion. Others ignored her and kept watching the red tinted world outside and the grey smokey rain that rose from the earth, careening to the sky.
Cheddly shook his head, clearing his thoughts, and grabbed Sepin’s bottle of shitty whiskey, filling her tumbler to the brim.
“Nice. Thank’e.” She winked. Raising the tumbler to her lips, she sipped and lapsed back into whatever dark thoughts occupied her attention. Still her back was turned to the world outside.
“Does she even know?” asked one old lady to another.
Her friend shrugged, jostling a heavily pieced, purple haired teen girl next to her. The teen gave her a look, then returned to watching the world. Watching, just like the others. Passively taking in the destruction of their world and silently witnessing the deaths of those unfortunate enough to be caught out in the rain.
The minutes ticked down, and as they watched… The cars parked along the street began to turn chalky in colour, dust falling from the junctions, groaning and grinding, and finally turning into stone; the light poles drooped like wet noodles, and when their lamps touched the ground, long spider legs sprouted from their tops, wriggling and tapping the asphalt in urgent gyrations; the trees planted along the causeway burst into purple flame, screaming as the tongues of blistering heat spread slowly over the whole of them, reducing them to gelatinous pulp.
“Is it God?” someone wondered.
“Is it the Devil?” another countered.
“Will the building last?”
“We’ll be safe in here, babe.”
“Where’ll we go if it don’t?”
“Is Grandpa safe?”
“…need my medicine soon. I can’t miss another”
“…let out the dogs. They’ll just pee on the floors.”
“No more school at least.”
“No more taxes at least.”
“I think it’s God.”
And the clock struck one.
Downing the last of her drink, Sepin set the tumbler down with a sharp clatter, belched and tugged her wallet from her cleavage.
“Owe you more fer the extra a’the end?” she asked. Cheddly wasn’t listening. “Hey, you wan’ money?” Still, the fat man didn’t answer. He was watching the world he knew bleed and cry and burn. “Su’cher self.” She tossed her usual bundle of bills on the bar top, and shoved her wallet into her purse.
Turning around, she goggled a moment at the number of people in the pub. The shock gave way to irritation almost immediately, as she began forcing her way through the stagnant sea of people.
“S’cuse me. Pard’n. Move it please. Move. Get outta my way!”
Elbowing sides, necks, ribs, and stomachs, Sepin crawled her way successfully to the front doors. Taking a moment to straighten her outfit and sling her purse over her shoulder, a tall man wearing a baseball hat asked her, “You sure you wanna go out there?”
“Gotta get back to th’grind,” she sighed, waving her arms dramatically.
“But everyone that goes outside dies.”
“Yeah, you’ll wanna stay in here with us, hun.”
“The world’s ending out them doors. Everything is fallin apart.”
Sepin laughed, and grabbed the door handle.
“Y’all just now noticing?” Then with another cackle, the thin drunk woman pulled open the door and walked into the backwards, horror of what the world was becoming.
Everyone in the pub leaned closer to the glass, eyes wide, mouths open, watching for—anticipating—the bubbles to begin forming, for her to freeze in the air, for her to die.
They watched as she stood on the street corner and looked back and forth, up and down the street, checking for cars, then seeing none, she crossed. One foot after the other, on and on until she reached the other side, and hopping onto the sidewalk, she walked down the block and turned around the corner, disappearing from sight.
“There’s something wrong with that girl,” someone near the back of the pub said.
Everyone nodded, then continued watching the world end.
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