Every night when I close my eyes I have this same dream. In the dream, I am eight years old. I am standing behind the great window in my father's home and I am watching the rain. It is coming down like nothing I have ever seen before. Lightning strikes once, but I never hear the thunder.
Instead, the wind picks up and drives the rain in faster. Water drenches the window pane and distorts the outside world to a blue-gray blur. Sometimes the wind lets up and I can see the streets filling with water.
Still, I stand there and watch the rain. It never ceases. It never slows. It rains and rains and rains. There is rain for days upon end. The Sun has gone. The Moon has gone. There is only the dark storm cloud and the rain and the water filling the streets.
The water turns the ground to silt and I watch as my mother rises from the front lawn. She looks exactly as she did before she died, as though the worms and beetles have not eaten her eyes and her cheeks and her tongue.
I am so busy watching her float from the murky earth that I don't see the water climb the porch like a winding snake until it has soaked my pant legs.
I look down at the water creeping ever higher to my waist and when I look up, my mother is plastered against the window pane. Her eyes are grey-blind and they roll around until they find me.
Her voice is relieved, but the smile on her face is crooked and misplaced. I turn to run, but the water is up to my chest and it fights my movements. I cry out once for my sister and the water carries her out from around the corner. She is dead – drowned – and she floats right past me.
Then, hands are on my shoulders. They push me under. I fight. I see my mother attached to those hands. Her smile is wrong.
"Just breathe, little bug. Just breathe and it'll stop hurting."
She pushes me under and I scream air bubbles and that is the end of the dream.
My name is Elijah Coulter and these are the events that led to the end of the world.
Monday, May 3rd 11:33
It's been three minutes since Kevin released us for our lunch break and my leg is getting impatient. I press on my thigh with one hand and use the other to stab a calculator. It's an old-timey Casio, the type with basic functions. I used to wonder why anyone would still use these things in the modern age, but as it would turn out, crunching numbers is really simple.
That's what I do. I crunch numbers in a tiny cubicle in the Finance and Account department of Hayes Inc. It's a really boring job and there's no chance of ever being promoted, but that doesn't bother me as much as it would the next twenty-something college dropout. Well, I have an associate's so I'm not a complete failure, but Chloe says that if I get my bachelor's degree I probably won't end up being sixty-seven and still crunching the same old numbers.
My leg starts jumping at the thought of Chloe and I decide to go. The numbers will wait. I shuffle all my papers into a folder and put the folder in with a stack of folders I haven't looked at. It's something they told us to do in training. They teach us not to trust each other.
That's fine with me, though. The only people I trust here are Mr. Hayes and Chloe. Mr. Hayes doesn't actually know who I am, but he trusts Chloe and I know who she is.
That's why I know no matter how long it takes me to get up for break, she'll always be there waiting for me.
I have to take the elevator to get to the Creative department. That's where Mr. Hayes has his office. Chloe is his secretary, so her desk is also in the Creative department.
"Eli! I was beginning to think you had gotten lost."
Chloe is at her desk and she's wearing the biggest smile. Her smiles always make me smile because they're so wide and they make her eyes crinkle at the corners.
"You want to grab some gyros for lunch?" I say. I always have to pick lunch since Chloe can never make up her mind. She's pretty adventurous, though. She's never turned down an idea.
"Ooh, that sounds great!"
She spins away from her desk and I hold out an arm for her. She takes it and we head to the elevator like we're a respectable couple.
Well, I think we're a respectable couple. People always stare at us on the streets. They just see a sixty-seven year old white woman on the arm of a twenty-year old black guy. I suppose they don't think there's anything respectable about us. That doesn't really bother me. I can't stop them from thinking their thoughts, after all.
Instead, she and I head to the nearest gyros vendor and sit down at an empty table. There are menus waiting for us. I have been to this vendor so many times I don't need to look to know that I'll get two chicken mushroom sandwiches.
It is Chloe who purses her lips and regards the menu with a connoisseur's eye. I don't know why she does this. She's been here before. Still, I smile and wait for her. The waiter arrives and he waits for her, too.
"Okay," she finally says, "I want the spicy gyros sandwich."
The waiter leaves and Chloe turns her painted eyes on me.
"What are you smiling about?"
I fold my arms on top of the table.
"I just think it's very funny the way you deliberate. You act as though you've never been here before."
She swats at me with her menu. "I've only been twice."
I continue to grin at her until I remember why I was so anxious to meet her in the first place.
"Oh, I made something for you."
I pull a small white box from my pocket. The corners are a little frayed from having been shoved in such tight quarters. I try to smooth them out before handing it to Chloe.
She gives me a cautious look, one of those "What are you up to?" looks, and I can barely contain myself.
"Go on, open it!"
I lean on my elbows as she opens the box. Her mouth opens a little and her eyebrows shoot up and I sit back, relieved.
"You made this?"
She lifts the necklace out by its seashell pendant.
"Yes. I broke seven seashells before I got it right, though."
Our gyros arrive and I set in on my first one as soon as I have it in my hands.
"Thank you for this, Eli. It's beautiful."
I nod and grab a napkin. "I remember you said you liked the beach."
"I did say that," she murmurs, but mostly to herself.
We finish lunch and I foot the bill. Even though she's a secretary, she gets higher wages than I do, but I still like to pay. It makes me feel responsible. I suppose it helps that she doesn't make a big deal out of it, either.
"Thank you for lunch, Eli," she says when we have to go our separate ways.
"No problem. I'll see you tomorrow."
She smiles and gives me a peck on the cheek. Her face brushes mine and it's as soft as satin. I never want to forget the feeling.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Eli," she whispers and then I have to go back to crunching numbers, but that doesn't bother me as much as it should.