This story has been hanging around on my computer for at least two years. I have always been unhealthily attracted to end of the world movies/books etc. I love it. I love them. There should be more of them out there.
Here is my contribution.
Jenna took a deep breath as she sat at the kitchen table. She stared fixedly at her father as he mumbled grace over his plate. Not once in her seventeen years could she recall him doing this. Today was a first.
It would also be a last.
"Amen." It was a scattered murmur from the five other occupants at the table.
Her heart thudded hollowly as she realized she'd missed the whole prayer, too busy mulling over the frightening oddity of its occurrence. Now, her younger brother and sister were digging into their supper, and her mother was leaning over to cut the toddler's French fries into little bits.
There were French fries with gravy for Matty, spaghetti and meatballs for Sophie, a bacon cheeseburger for Parker; there was no milk for them tonight, just Coca Cola, Root Beer and Orange pop. Jenna stared at her own meal of macaroni and cheese with a glass of chocolate milk. It suddenly looked unappetizing.
The kitchen had looked like a disaster zone after everyone's meals had been prepared. Her parents hadn't even bothered to clean up; not one bit.
Jenna suddenly felt ill, light-headed and dizzy. She glanced over at her mother, wondering if she noticed the sudden pallor that she felt in her face. No, she was chewing on her rare steak while locked in a strange staring match with her dad. He had a plate of Chinese food and a tumbler of dark rum. Her mother drank red wine – she never drank wine.
Jenna couldn't resist one last sip of her chocolate milk before forcing her chair back. It scraped loudly against the hardwood floor, and five pairs of eyes were instantaneously fixed on her. Standing, she willed herself to be brave.
"What are you doing, Jen?" her mom queried so simply, but her eyes silently bid her to sit back down.
Jenna wet her lips, the light-headedness suddenly affecting her sight. She placed her hands on the table to steady herself. "I…."
"Sit down, Jenna," her father soothed in a voice that wasn't soothing. "We're having a family dinner."
She licked her lips again, trying to avoid looking at her siblings and their wide, innocent eyes.
"You never say grace," she forced out finally.
A heavy pause hung in the air before her dad spoke up, slowly, choosing his words carefully.
"I thought it would be appropriate, Jenna." He peered up at her from over his glasses. She knew his eyes held the same feeling that was in the pit of her stomach.
"I've never been to church," she blurted out. "I…I can't sit here and pretend." Her voice hitched, and she felt a pressure in her stomach similar to hiccups. "I can't sit here and pretend that nothing is going to happen. I can't…wait in silence." She blinked rapidly as tears suddenly began to sting in her eyes. "This isn't a family dinner. This is like…like sinking slowly in quicksand. This is like a funeral." By the end, she could barely speak because her throat was so tight and her eyes and nose were hurting.
Her family stared in shock.
Her mother opened her mouth and tried to speak, but Jenna cut her off.
"I'm sorry you think I ruined it – but it was hopeless anyways." She heaved a breath. "I love you dad. Mom, I love you. Matty, Sophie, Parker, I love you all. But I c-can't stay here." She began to back away from the table.
"Jenna–" her father started.
"No, dad," she interrupted, shaking her head. "I have to go. I love you." She turned to go then, fighting to pull her shoes on at the front door and nearly running out when she heard the sound of scraping chairs in the kitchen. She fled the house as though the devil was chasing her.
She ran blindly, until the hollow feeling inside was replaced with the burning of her lungs.
Jenna slowed her pace several blocks away, out of breath and cold with the realization that she'd forgotten her jacket. It was early autumn and the air was cool with an impending frost. Her breath clouded out in front of her, dissipating quickly in the night air.
The urge to keep walking kept her going, and she distracted herself from the sharp pricking behind her eyes with the sight of the dark sky. The warm comfort of her home faded as the night embraced her.
Home wasn't where she needed or wanted to be right now, though. It everything was going to end this night, then she wasn't able to sit with her family thinking about all the things she never did. Didn't tell Sarah how sorry she was for calling her a slut the Wednesday before – how sorry she was for ruining Cassie's teddy bear in the third grade.
She wished she hadn't given Rob that black eye last year after he told her she was a bitch. She regretted not sending that thank-you note to her grandma for that birthday cheque last year – and for those ten other birthdays. She should have told Ricky that she wanted to go to prom with him, even though prom wouldn't happen this year. She shouldn't have yelled at her sister two days ago, or made Parker cry. She should have volunteered to baby-sit Matty more often, because she really loved him. Should have given her mother more hugs, her dad more kisses. Taken Sophie to the mall with her friends. Been more open with her friends. Laughed more. Talked more. Cried more.
Jenna realized she was crying when tears began to cool on her face, creating icy trails down to her chin. They snaked down into the collar of her t-shirt, wetting her neck.
Belatedly, she also realized that she was at the neighbourhood park.
It was nothing special to her. She hadn't spent her childhood on this jungle-gym or swinging on its swings. They had only moved into the neighbourhood four years ago, by then too old to swing on swings and monkey-bars.
In the relative gloom of the night, however, she made her way over to the lonely set of swings. They were no more than twenty feet from where she stood, yet the walk seemed to take ages.
Here, now, in the open night in a park surrounded by houses, Jenna felt more vulnerable than ever. The cold and harsh reality of her decisions weighed down on her and surrounded her like the unreal terrors of a nightmare come true.
With goosebumps tingling up her back and arms, Jenna settled herself into the cold seat of the swing. She clasped her hands around the icy chains and forced in several deep breaths before tilting her head back and confronting the sky.
In the faint moonlight she could see her breath conglomerating in hot puffs, and more than ever she regretted not having the sense to grab a jacket.
A shiver rippled through her as she watched the stars, almost expecting movement. A flash of light far above her.
The stars only continued to twinkle and wink at her though, mocking and laughing at her humanity, her mortality – the world.
People thought themselves so superior and invincible, but what would they do tonight when Valhalla opened its gates to embrace the world, when Armageddon would engulf the earth and the universe would finally take back what it had created?
Jenna knew the illness she felt was because of the truth. Her heart thudded hollowly in the confines of her ribcage, thumping and bumping so harshly that she had to avert her eyes from the night sky to prevent her eyes from overflowing.
Blinking rapidly, she shifted on the swing. It gave a groaning creak in response.
Her fingers were beginning to numb, and when she tried to uncurl them from around the chain, she found them stiff and frozen.
Almost painfully, she fisted her hands and crossed her arms over her chest. The goosebumps on her arms seemed quite permanent, and another shudder of cold ran through her, reaching her insides.
The unmistakable, acrid smell of cigarette smoke reached her then. It was pungent and thick, and clearly coming from close by. Wondering who else might be seeking refuge in the park, Jenna peered into the darkness surrounding her.
In the shadow of the wooden jungle-gym she caught sight of red glow in the night as someone took a long drag from a cigarette. Upon looking more closely she made out the figure of a man – possibly her age or older. Teenagers had an unmistakable air that made them hard to miss. It was in the way they held themselves. Arrogance. Self-importance.
This boy exuded it in waves like the smoke from the cigarette he was puffing on.
Jenna watched him for a moment, unable to make any more details out about him.
She was inexplicably drawn to him.
Quite cautiously, she stood from her swing and began to walk over, attracted to another human presence. Her sudden desire for kinship overrode her more common sense that told her to avoid strangers at night in empty parks.
She figured it wouldn't matter in a few hours, anyway.
Jenna was perhaps fifteen feet away from him, just in his line of vision, when he noticed her.
The glowing tip of his cigarette hesitated a moment before moving down to his side.
"Jennifer Gale trying to sneak up on me in the dark. Never on any other day would I think it possible." His voice rang out in the empty void of the park, startling her.
Jenna vaguely recognized his voice, but only because of the characteristic sardonic tinge to it. For a moment, she couldn't put a name to it.
Meanwhile, he took another unconcerned drag from his cigarette.
"David?" she spoke finally, embarrassed to realize she didn't know his last name. She only knew him, really, because very few really knew him. He had previously been in every single one of her English classes since grade eight, the year she moved into town. She recognized him as the sarcastic presence in the rear of the classroom, the boy who had an opinion on everything and wasn't afraid to interrupt a teacher to voice it.
"Yeah?" he answered, blowing smoke to the side.
Jenna ventured closer to him – five feet away then hesitated because she hadn't really had a question and he seemed to be waiting for one. Wrapping her arms around herself, she tried to get a better look at him.
Even in the dim silvery moonlight she could make out his russet, unruly curls that nearly covered his eyes, which caught the shine of the moon but weren't focused on her. He was wearing a lightweight jacket over a hoodie and seemed very warm, which made her feel even colder.
"You can sit down, you know," he stated gruffly. "Instead of just standing there."
Snapping out of her reverie, Jenna hastened to do his bidding and sat down on the wooden platform, leaving a large, obvious space between them.
David noticed this with a chuckle. "I don't really bite, you know. Those rumours about me being a vampire aren't exactly true," he told her.
His words elicited a smile from Jenna. "What about the one that you went to juvie for beating up six guys with a two-by-four?" she asked, not really knowing why but unable to stop herself.
David laughed outright at that. Stubbing his cigarette on the wood, he leaned back on his arms. "Telling would ruin the mystery, Jen."
Jenna immediately liked that he called her Jen. Her family called her Jenna. Jen was used mostly by her close friends.
"What about you?" David interrupted her thoughts. "It is really true that you took a Calculus 100 entrance exam…purely for the fun of it?"
Jenna detected a playful tone his in voice that made something in her stomach flutter slightly.
"Guilty as charged," she mumbled, smiling awkwardly. "Although I guess it doesn't really matter now, does it?"
When David didn't reply straight away, Jenna's stomach lurched. As irrational as it was, she wondered if he even knew. Was he going to ask her what she meant? Or, even more bizarre, was it all just a dream? A hallucination. It was farfetched enough to be unreal.
What if she was in a coma in a hospital, dreaming this whole ordeal up?
Could it really not be real?
"I guess not," David said lowly, finally.
Jenna let out the breath she'd been holding and crossed her arms more tightly. The hairs on her arms stood on end.
"Do you often take walks at night without a jacket?" he asked suddenly from beside her.
Jenna was glad the darkness hid her flush of embarrassment. She forced out a laugh, shaking her head.
"I wasn't thinking when I left, I guess," she said simply.
David pushed himself off the platform suddenly, his shoes crunching loudly on the gravel. She watched silently as he unzipped his jacket and shrugged it off. He offered it to her without a word.
Jenna chewed her lip. "You don't have to…" she protested weakly, not knowing why. She was freezing and he knew it. His thoughtfulness made her wonder.
"Just take it, Jen," he told her in a no-nonsense tone.
Bowing her head, she slid off the platform and took it from him. It was still warm, she could feel, and she pulled it over her shivering form gratefully. Immediately, she was enveloped by the faint smell of cigarettes and cologne. The jacket fell to mid-thigh and far past her hands. She went to zip it up but was beaten by David, who had moved closer and zipped it to the very top so it covered her neck. She felt dwarfed by his height – her nose didn't even meet his shoulders.
"Thanks," Jenna said faintly, rigid with his nearness.
"No problem," he replied, taking a step back. "I didn't even stay in my house long enough to have dinner before I ran out the door."
Jenna peered up at him. "Were you in a hurry to leave?"
He gave her a wry look. "Yeah…let's just say my dad is the last person I'd want to spend tonight with."
Jenna recalled stories from school that involved David coming to school with bruises. She'd heard rumours that he had no mother, and his father was a drunk. She didn't want to question him further, afraid to offend him
"I'll will," she blurted out before she fully realized. "I-I mean, I'll stay. Here. Tonight." She looked down and fidgeted with the sleeves of the jacket.
He was silent for a moment, and then moved around her. She turned and watched as she hopped back up onto the platform. He turned to look down at her.
"Come on," he beckoned simply, before turning and walking along the swinging bridge that ended in a ladder up to the slide.
Jenna hurried to follow him, scrambling onto the wooden platform and across the bridge. It wobbled around the made enough noise to wake a neighbourhood. She felt slightly ridiculous running around in the large jacket, but figured that David didn't really mind.
He waited until she was across the bridge before pulling himself up the ladder, which was only slightly taller than him. She rolled up the sleeves of his jacket and followed quickly; she was surprised when he held out a hand to pull her up and accepted it even though she didn't need the help.
When they were both on the platform, David flopped down against the wooden railing beside the gaping dark hole of the slide. Jenna noticed that he left just enough space for another person to sit beside him, and did so slowly, sliding into place and pulling her knees up to her chest. Her back against the sturdy wood was deceptively reassuring.
"Might as well have a front row seat, huh?" David said.
Jenna swallowed a lump in her throat at his words, unable to summon an answer.
David sighed. "Sorry," he muttered lowly. "I guess you don't want to hear that…"
Jenna forced out a breath. "No. It's okay," she paused.
She closed her eyes against the sight of the sky, and chewed on her bottom lip. Her left leg was almost touching David's and she could feel the heat coming off him, warming her side. His presence beside her was comforting, but that ill feeling deep inside her refused to leave.
"Are you afraid?" she asked quietly, almost afraid to break the warm silence between them. She turned her head slightly to look at him.
David opened his mouth but didn't reply immediately.
"No," he said finally and turned to regard her. "More pissed off than anything."
Jenna didn't believe that he wasn't scared, but humoured him anyway.
"Me too," she replied. "Angry, that is…I'm scared shitless, too."
David's barking laugh startled her, and she glanced over at him.
"What?" she asked, somewhat defensively.
"Swearing doesn't come naturally to you, Jen," he told her, grinning lopsidedly.
Jenna sighed, wrinkling her nose, but did not reply. She turned her gaze back to the night sky and folded her arms across her chest.
David leaned closer then, before Jenna could move away. She sat frozen as he spoke lowly to her, his lips beside her ear.
"And you don't have to be scared," he told her. His breath was warm on her ear and face.
She turned her head somewhat stiffly, giving him a questioning look.
He grinned cheekily back at her. "'Cause I'll stay…here. With you. Tonight."
"You're a dork," she blurted out, blushing and biting a smile back, willing herself not to be effected by his closeness. At the same time, though, his words caused warmth to spread through her torso.
He laughed loudly, and the sound comforted her more than his words had.
"Sometimes, you can't help be afraid," she breathed, barely audible. "Even when it may be completely irrational…" She expelled a sigh and watched her breath dissipate. Then, with hesitance, she unfurled her arms and her clumsy hand sought out his.
Jenna stared determinedly up into the sky as her fingers touched David's. She was almost startled by how quickly he threaded their fingers together and held on in such a firm grip.
"But it's not irrational." His voice broke the tense silence. "The impact has been predetermined…only fifty kilometres from here…at one twenty-two in the morning."
Jenna swallowed thickly, that feeling of sickness growing inside her once more.
As if sensing her growing unease he squeezed her hand. "I promise I'll be here," he assured her evenly.
All of a sudden Jenna felt overwhelmed with shame. Quickly, she managed to untangle her fingers from David's and crossed her arms firmly against her chest.
"Sorry," she said resolutely. "I'm such a baby sometimes. You don't want to listen to me whine all night." Jenna chewed on her lower lip and stared determinedly out across the park.
David shifted suddenly, pulling up his long legs and turning to partially face her. She watched him carefully from the corner of her eye.
"Don't," he said, the paused. "I mean…I don't mind. I really don't."
Jenna relaxed slightly but couldn't face him. She continued to gnaw on her lip.
"You can just tell me to shut up, you know," she assured him. "It won't hurt my feelings. I know people sometimes would prefer it if I kept my mouth closed sometimes." She managed a weak smile, but focused on the sight of the night sky.
"No…" He shifted again, inching closer.
Jenna started when warm fingers touched her face, cradling her cheek and forcing her tilt her head towards him. She was startled by both his sudden nearness and the intense look in his dark eyes.
She only had time to flutter her eyes once in partial confusion before his lips were on hers, his nose pressing against her cheek and his stubble scraping gently against her skin. The feeling overwhelmed her; her eyes slid shut and her hand covered his, holding it there.
He broke away quickly – only momentarily, however, to slide an arm around her back and pull her in closer, bringing her into his heat while capturing her lips in a rougher, more hasty manner, his teeth scraping her lower lip before his tongue soothed it. Jenna felt as though someone had lit a fire in her – her entire being seemed to wake and demanded more.
She pressed herself closer and David obliged. With one swift motion he had scooped her up from beside him and deposited her in his lap. She squawked slightly, but any protest was forgotten as his tongue slipped into her mouth. Chest to chest now, Jenna felt the burning in her increase and moaned against his lips. He pressed her closer if at all possible, trapping her against him. Her arms found their way around his neck and she buried her hands in his hair. It was soft to the touch and slightly mussed.
David groaned deep in his throat and pulled away, panting harshly.
Her chest heaving, Jenna only managed one look into his eyes before she buried her head in the crook of his neck as her cheeks heated in embarrassment. Her stomach twisted and rolled, butterflies flying rampant.
Not only was she straddling David and had kissed David, she was pressed so close to him that she could feel the hard contours of his chest. She curled her hands in front of her, almost defensively.
She'd had one boyfriend her entire life, and he had been a science nerd who took four weeks to kiss her and even then it was unimpressive. He'd dumped her when he started taking extra science courses in addition to his advanced classes. Preparation for university, he'd told her bluntly.
David chuckled. She felt it deep in his chest and it only caused her to blush even more.
She couldn't ever recall acting the way she had tonight.
She wouldn't admit that it pleased her.
"Hey Jen," he said cheerily, and she could hear the smile in his voice.
It took her a moment to gather to courage to face him, and she knew her cheeks were still red when she looked into his face.
"You're really pretty," he told her with a crooked yet sheepish grin on his face.
Eyes widening, she was struck dumb for a moment. She stared at him.
Clearing her throat slightly, she fixed him with a look. "You know, David, just because it's the end of the world doesn't mean you have to flatter me," she said, somewhat seriously, because the thought was on her mind. This was the boy who was rumoured to have badmouthed cops and pummelled more people than she could count.
"Say my name again," he merely requested, and was looking at her with a light in his eyes that she couldn't identify.
Frowning slightly at his sudden good mood, she obliged him.
She could have sworn his eyes sparkled. "Jenna?"
She pursed her lips in confusion. "Yes?"
"You're really pretty," he told her again, and this time leaned forward to kiss her.
It was slower this time, and much shorter, but when he pulled away she was still breathless.
"Thank you?" she squeaked, her words coming out like a question.
David laughed, his arms tightening around her back. Each spot his fingertips touched her seemed to burn through her shirt and his jacket.
When he had calmed down they regarded each other again, wordlessly. His eyes were bright, searching her face keenly for something. She didn't know what.
"I'm glad you came here tonight, Jen." His voice held an uncertain edge to it.
She hoped the smile on her face assured him. "So am I," she replied simply, somewhat bashfully. Her heart was fluttering in her chest. She chewed her lip. "Thank you…for being here."
David smiled at her and she thought her heart might burst. In joy and agony. It hit her in the gut how unfair this was. That she finally talked to him tonight. Tonight of all nights. Why not sooner?
Or not at all?
She swallowed the sudden lump in her throat, but David noticed.
"Hey, hey, now!" he cried out, and then pulled her close, hugging her to him and speaking quickly into her ear. "I'll be here! When it happens, they say we won't even feel it. It will be too quick."
She shuddered against him, squeezing her eyes shut so tears couldn't escape.
His hands stroked her shaking back and he pressed his head against hers. He made soothing noises, occasionally murmuring something that she couldn't quite catch.
It stunned her, really, the situation she was in. Huddled on David's lap and crying her eyes out as he attempted to calm her. Like he cared. The thought excited the butterflies.
Finally, she took a shaky breath and released it in a steady whoosh of air. Lifting a shaky hand, she wiped the cold tears from her face.
"You know, for a guy with such a bad reputation, you're a bit of softie," she murmured humorously, a smile stretching her lips.
He chuckled slightly. "Just been waiting for that right time, I guess."
Jenna grinned to herself, then slowly wound her arms around his torso, pressing her hands into his back, mimicking his position.
He sighed against her and hummed deep in his throat. It was a sound that she could have sworn was one of contentment. She let her eyes slip shut and rested her head on his shoulder. For a moment, perhaps, she could just forget everything. She could lie in David's arms on top of a playground and pretend that it was normal. She could pretend that everything was going to be alright.
The two stayed like that as the night crept on, confiding to each other in low voices and exchanging heated kisses.
Eventually, Jenna felt her eyes drooping and welcomed sleep. David followed soon after.
Above them, the night sky remained clear. Surrounding the playground, the park remained deserted. The neighbourhood stayed awake and alert, unable to find the peace that the couple had found in each other so quickly yet so late.
Midnight passed. The moon drifted overhead, a silent witness.
At one nineteen, three minutes early, David and Jenna were unaware as an asteroid streaked a trail of fire through the sky, burning up the very air before slamming into the Earth, just fifty miles away.
Above, the starts twinkled.