By Mason Yates
Although he had seen lots of things in Afghanistan (a Boeing CH-47 Chinook shot with a rocket-propelled grenade in midair, his best friend’s head blown off by a sniper, and a comrade’s leg ripped apart by an IED explosive), Bucky Woods, as it turned out, had not seen it all until his last night on earth—or, rather, everyone’s last night on earth. He snatched a hotdog at Terry Coupland’s house and stepped back into the street, where the neighborhood block party had started to get… well, wild was one word for it. People danced in the middle of Kale Drive to loud music; teenagers kissed heavily on front porches without embarrassment; and some gawked at the starry sky, mouths agape and eyes wide open. As Bucky crossed the crowded street, he caught a glimpse of an old woman praying the rosary. Then, he saw a parentless boy wandering the party with tear-streaked cheeks. Somewhere, a feminine ululation caused some heads to turn. Elsewhere, a distant but blaring television warned it was coming, almost upon them.
Bucky finished his snack the moment he stepped onto the curb, surprising himself that he had finished it in under two minutes considering he had not been hungry when he had gotten it. He wiped his hands on his jeans, then glanced at the sky. A brilliant white light hurtled towards earth. Cheers welcomed it as it grew closer. But Bucky remained silent. Instead, he gulped. He felt his legs grow weak as he trudged through a green lawn filled with men and women in a skyward-gazing trance. Sweat pooled in the center of his back, as well as above his upper lip. A twitch started to mess with his left eye.
Behind him, a motorcycle roared to life. Its thundering engine rose above the shrieks and screams coming from the party. At once, Bucky wheeled around. An older man, wearing nothing but his birthday suit, sat on the one-seater. He held a megaphone to his mouth. The loud music cut off. A sudden silence engulfed the neighborhood, and everyone—even the people who had been staring into the sky—turned. An unsettling feeling weighed, like a blanket, on the giant block party. The naked elder grinned, then began his doomsday speech:
“I know it must be awful to stare at a naked old man riding a Harley Davidson, right? It’s not a pleasant sight. Just look at the wrinkles and flabby flesh”—he grabbed a white piece of his stomach and jiggled it—“I have on me. It’s gross? Well, to that I say ‘fuck you.’ It is the end of the fucking world, and I’m going to go out the way I want to, okay? Stand back!” The man waved a hand at the crowd, and like Moses parting the Red Sea, the neighbors stepped out of the street and onto the surrounding lawns. “See that stone sign at the end of the road—the one that reads Augusta Estates?” The man turned to view the party, saw that everyone nodded, and raised the megaphone to his lips again. He chuckled. “Well, I’m going to ram this bike right into the fucker, okay? And nobody’s going to stop me!”
The naked fellow threw down the megaphone. The thing shattered and emanated a loud screech, but the motorcycle thundered to life a minute later and drowned out the piercing sound. The crowd cheered. Everyone—including Bucky, even though he had witnessed lots of horrible deaths in war and did not wish to see it again—watched. Within seconds, the elder smashed the motorcycle to pieces, and the old man flew off the handlebars. Bucky turned a moment too late. He had already seen it all. He winced and shuddered. The crowd, on the other hand, hoorayed, and they even high fived each other. Meanwhile, Bucky tried to catch his breath.
“What the hell?” he muttered to himself and trampled through a lawn. He clambered into an unknown house and sat down on a wooden bench next to the front door. There, he regained a breath or two and lowered his head into his hands. Tears crept down his cheeks, while memories of a different time tried to swallow him whole. He pushed the thoughts aside, however, and stood up. He did not dare go back outside. Rather, Bucky went into the next room. A television played in the corner, its glowing screen dyeing everything in the dark space a shade of blue. The muted screen depicted a talking young blonde; subtitles at the bottom read out what she said:
“I’m being told to instruct everyone to brace for impact. The meteor is set to arrive in, well, what looks like nine to ten minutes. Although the estimated survival rate is close to zero, it is in everyone’s best interest to seek shelter in their basements, and—” The pretty woman shook her head and frowned. “What am I even talking about? We’re all going to die. I’m sorry, folks. The world is ending, and we’re all—” Before she could finish, the reporter ripped off the small, black microphone attached to her blouse, threw it down, and stomped off set.
The screen went blank. Bucky shook his head. Then, out of nowhere, he heard moaning. Without thought, he turned his back on the television and exited the living room, entering a large foyer, where an eerie glow illuminated from a room at the end of the hallway. He walked toward it with his hand on the nearby wall for support—his legs growing weaker and weaker, trembling so much worse than before, even during his time in Afghanistan.
Cheers erupted outside the house, but Bucky ignored them. He focused on the moans and crept closer and closer. When he walked into the light, he gasped.
Two naked individuals—a muscled man with colorful tattoos all over his back and a dark woman with long fingernails and plump breasts—were deep into the act of fornication. The lady uttered loud moans, while the man grunted with each thrust. She was on her back, on the kitchen table. The tattooed man, on the other hand, stood over her, one hand on her throat, the other on a breast. The woman gazed dreamily at the man. Both, it seemed, did not notice Bucky standing a few feet from them in the kitchen entryway, and if they did, neither looked his way.
Bucky departed the scene.
Not in the mood to return to the block party, Bucky went over to the halfway open sliding glass door which led to the backyard. A gentle midsummer breeze blew the light blue curtains in the exit way. While the silk sheets danced, Bucky stepped around them and snuck out. He about closed the door, but he decided against it. After all, the house belonged to someone else, not him even though he found himself there. He was merely a refugee of the animalistic block party. He took a moment to catch his breath, then strolled into the lawn, where the grass looked maintained and felt like a soft cushion under his feet. He thought about his own yard—nowhere near as well kept as this yard—and guessed he could have gone home, his house only being a ten-minute walk away. But Bucky chose to stay. He told himself to sit, so he took a seat on a little bench to his right.
He sighed and shoved his hands deep into his pockets. Just as he did so, the breeze blew. His brown hair ruffled, and he scratched his shaved cheeks, thinking about how he would die out in someone else’s backyard alone. Then, he heard a soft bang! across the backyard. He glanced, saw a slim brunette woman standing beside an ajar wooden gate, and smiled. She frowned.
“Oh,” she said and started to leave, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude.”
“No,” Bucky said and held up his hand as if to say it’s all right, no worries. “You’re not intruding. This isn’t even my house.”
“Did you come back here to escape the party?” the woman asked. She moved away from the wooden gate and stepped into the grassy yard, which had grown significantly paler due to the meteor. “If so, I am too.”
Bucky chuckled. “Yeah. I had to get away from it all. When I saw the old guy, I almost, well, threw up. All the blood in the street reminded me of Afghanistan.”
“Oh,” the brunette lady gasped. “I’m sorry.”
Bucky shook his head. “It’s okay.” After, he looked up at the sky. The white light—that damn meteor—grew closer and closer, almost to the point where Bucky could start to see details. He could sort of make out craters on its surface, as well as mountain-like landforms. It started to show color, too. It was brown. No doubt about that. Brown like the sands of Afghanistan. Sort of, in a way, like the dirt his friend—the one killed by a sniper—had fallen into after being shot. The marine had, at least, died quick, probably quicker than Bucky was going to when the meteor struck in a few minutes.
The woman walked into the yard and took a seat beside Bucky. She peered into the sky and sighed. “So, this is the way it ends.”
Bucky shrugged, keeping his eyes on the sky just like the woman. “I guess so.”
“Do you think there are going to be any survivors?” she asked.
Bucky shrugged again. He lowered his eyes onto the grass. “I don’t know. I doubt it.”
“Not an optimist?” the lady asked and looked away from the sky. She glanced at him.
“Just a realist,” Bucky shrugged and looked up at her. He could see her clear in the night. She had hazel eyes, straight brunette hair, and smooth skin that looked quite pale due to the light. She looked perhaps in her early thirties, like him, and she stretched her lips into a cute grin. That made his heart flutter a little. He chuckled to himself. “But I guess you’re going to say there are no such things as realists. Realists are pessimists.”
The lady laughed. Her lips stretched apart enough to reveal her white teeth. “You got it. That’s exactly what I was going to say.”
Bucky chortled. “That’s what everyone says.”
“Really now?” she asked and looked over her shoulder at him. “Does everyone really say that? Is that true?”
“Yep,” Bucky said with a nod. “Everyone says that.”
“I didn’t know that was a common phrase,” the lady said.
“Well, now you do.”
“I guess so. You learn something new every day.”
“Yeah,” Bucky said and glanced at the sky one last time. “Even on the last day.”
Mason Yates is from a small town in the Midwest, but he currently lives in Arizona, where he graduated from Arizona State University. He has interned with the magazine Hayden’s Ferry Review and has served as the fiction editor for ASU’s undergraduate literary magazine Lux during the 2021-2022 school year. His works can be found in magazines/webzines such as Land Beyond the World, Scarlet Leaf Review, Fabula Argentea, Idle Ink, Pif Magazine, and others.
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