Reading Time: 7 minutes
“She ran into the living room dressed in a unicorn onesie and holding a unicorn hobby-horse,” his friend’s smile widened. He loved talking about his daughter. “You know, a stick with a unicorn head on it?”
So this is what we’ve come to, thought Roy. No more chasing skirts and shooting tequila for these studs, now we swap stories about the kids over a Hefeweizen. He nodded at his friend and smiled.
“She was waving it around and yelling,” he raised his arm and shook his fist. “Ahhh!”
Roy remembered the girl. She was almost five, a few years older than his own son. He imagined her jumping around the living room in front of her dad. He looked forward to his boy growing big enough to wield a stick like that – they’d play pirates. Roy loved pirates.
“There she was with a unicorn skin draped over her shoulders, a unicorn head on a stake – it was gruesome!” He shook his head. “All I could think was: ‘All hail, Deirdre! Unicorn Slayer!'”
Roy laughed. “Did you actually say that?”
“Oh yeah,” his friend said. “And then she ran around for an hour repeating it: ‘All hail, Deirdre – Unicorn Slayer! All hail, Deirdre!’ Janet didn’t think it was nearly as funny as…”
That’s when his friend collapsed.
Roy immediately slipped off the stool and crouched next to the limp body. As he moved, Roy’s mind flipped back and analyzed the previous half minute with a new focus; the room had gotten quieter in the seconds leading up to his friend’s collapse and the sound of his body hitting the floor was the last of a series of thuds, out of sight, behind Roy’s back. He hadn’t noticed any of that – he’d been caught up in his friend’s story, imagining the girl, the triumphant slaughterer of mythical beasts – until the moment his friend fell.
No breathing. The body lay completely lifeless in his arms. Roy looked up.
You’re dead! The voice rang in Roy’s head. He didn’t plan it or logic through it. He didn’t even think it, but the murderer fell to the ground.
That’s how Roy knew it was God’s will. The man had come into the bar and murdered three people in cold blood, simply because he had the power. Roy had no idea about the curse. He didn’t understand what had happened until a full day later as he wandered through the chaos that had been Seattle. But in that moment he did the right thing, without a thought. He realized, in hindsight, that the murderer must have been thinking him dead at the same time – anticipating his fourth kill in less than a minute – but Roy had been faster. Divinely inspired, Roy prevailed. How else could he have won? God must have willed it. Roy didn’t do anything – he had no idea what was happening – yet the man fell dead.
Roy couldn’t pretend that the curse didn’t challenge his faith. He had always considered himself a God-fearing soul. He was active in his church. He volunteered every Tuesday serving meals to the homeless and he never missed a service. In the first years of their marriage, Nancy would sometimes try to keep him in bed on Sunday mornings, but Roy always insisted. It was his duty to keep her on the path. Saturday mornings on the other hand, those were their days – until Caleb was born. That’s when family took on a whole new meaning for Roy – a sense of responsibility and duty that bordered on fear. He still shook uncontrollably when he thought of the last time he’d seen his wife and son. He quaked, helpless against the tremors of grief and guilt. And Roy did feel guilty, despite the fact that his only sin had been to share a beer with a friend.
He’d kissed them both, said he loved them. He remembered that, cherished it – at least they knew he loved them. He squeezed his wife good-bye and asked her not to wait up. He was going out for a drink with his friend. Now, only a few months later, he couldn’t even remember his friend’s name. He remembered the wife, Janet, their daughter, Deirdre ‘the Unicorn Slayer,’ but his friend’s name … he was … his friend. This lapse in memory chilled Roy to the bone – what if one day he woke up and couldn’t remember his own family.
They had simply vanished. When he’d made his way home through the frenzied streets all the lights were still on. He burst through the door and called to his wife. The house was immaculate, as usual. Nothing seemed out of place, until he got to the kitchen. There he found a dinner half-eaten – a place set for Nancy at the table, Caleb’s high chair strewn with string cheese and cheerios. The doors were closed and Nancy’s car was in the carport. No bags packed, no clothes missing, nothing in the house disturbed. His family had simply disappeared.
Roy didn’t put it all together until days later, after finding so many of his friends and neighbors dead and others simply gone without a trace. Riots, looting, and more killing flooded through the streets. This was the Apocalypse. That was certain. But it was also the Rapture. Nancy and Caleb had been taken up. They were in God’s Kingdom. Roy and the others, everyone left alive, were serving purgatory. The Chosen had been raised up, while the dead fell to Hell. It was God’s will. It all had to be God’s will. Nancy and Caleb were safe and happy, risen to Heaven unharmed.
It didn’t take Roy much longer to realize that he had also been chosen. Roy had a unique mission in this purgatory. He stood alone among the rest of the ‘survivors.’ They all suffered through trials of righteousness. Would they kill? Would they seek revenge? Would they sacrifice? God’s final test fell upon them and not many passed. But Roy didn’t struggle like the rest. He didn’t worry, because he never felt the choice. Roy never chose to kill. He was the sword of God, a divine tool, the Holy Spirit possessed him only when needed. Roy knew this, felt it in his soul – unlike those who killed for material gain or out of fear or panic – Roy never premeditated, never planned, and never killed in defense or rage. A hundred people, maybe more, had fallen under Roy’s gaze, but only at God’s choosing. It always happened exactly like the first time – a voice ringing in his head: You’re dead.
Roy’s faith, his knowledge of the true and righteous nature of the ‘curse,’ freed him from the morose depressive mindset that plagued so many others. He kept his humor and lived each day in the here and now, knowing that, when God needed him, he was ready. Otherwise he focused on food, shelter, and good company.
He’d met Daniel in the back of a ransacked neighborhood mini-mart. Roy was retrieving a couple of cans that had rolled under the soft serve machine. Others had trashed the place, toppled shelves, smashed windows, but most looters weren’t very thorough and Roy could almost always find some food-stuff or useful artifact buried in the mess.
“Need a hand?”
Roy spun, his arm cocking automatically, a can of Deviled Ham poised to hurtle toward the voice.
“Whoa!” The man stepped back lifting his hands and dropping his eyes. He stumbled over a fallen magazine rack. Tall and lanky – the opposite of Roy – Daniel was disarmingly awkward. He straightened and gave a quick nod. “Nice glasses!”
Roy smiled. He’d picked up the novelty ‘crazy eyes’ earlier that day. “Thanks. I figure just because it’s the Apocalypse, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t look my best.”
That was the beginning of Roy’s first friendship since the world ended. Daniel had a mission of his own, a vision of bringing order back into the world, restoring civilization, and civility. He’d gathered a few like-minded people and asked Roy if he’d join them. Roy felt a kinship with Daniel. Their missions complemented each other. Daniel could build a society and Roy could ensure, God willing, that the population stayed pure.
Daniel introduced him to David, Scotty, and Tatiana. They stood around blindfolded and told their stories. Not stories from before – no one liked to talk about the old world – but about how they had survived thus far, what brought them here, how they met. At first, when it was just the four of them, they put on the blindfolds every time they gathered to talk, but after a while they realized it was only important if they started to argue or get strident about something. As soon as someone raised their voice, you could feel everyone’s tension rise – like hackles on a dog. That was when they needed to tie up.
Carl and Tava had joined them only a few weeks back, just after they’d found the old warehouse basement. That’s when the group really solidified. Seven souls together with a purpose – a band of pirates facing the stormy future. Carl stepped up quickly, quiet but industrious, and took on the role of maintenance man – which Roy appreciated. Roy liked to prepare the food and get the crew together for meetings or games, but he didn’t like the drudgery of clean up and repairs, so Carl was a blessing. Tava seemed shy, but sweet – as innocent as anyone could be in the circumstances. Roy wondered why God hadn’t taken her up. She acted humble, wearing her beauty without pretension, but perhaps she’d been arrogant and prideful in school and only learned her humility after the judgment day.
Roy didn’t have a good read on Angie yet. He’d voted to include her but he would always vote for accepting newcomers – God would take care of things if anyone went bad. She seemed to fit well with the group, joining into the mealtime chatter and respecting the rites of their tribe. Even with Angie there, and the shadow of Scotty’s death hanging in the air, everybody had been able to relax and smile as they passed the cans of food around the circle. Roy wondered if this might be the gathering of the new apostles, setting the stage for the return. Could Daniel be the new Jesus?
Roy was chuckling at his own hubris when the wailing began.
Everyone arrived at the same time. It only took a moment to understand why Carl spun with rage; his beautiful, innocent daughter lay dead at their feet.
Carl, in his grief, spewed accusations at them all.
“Maybe it was an accident,” Roy said. It had to have been an accident. No one would murder Tava.
Carl lunged at him screaming. “Did you kill her on accident?!”
Roy panicked. He hadn’t done it. Tava was just a kid. The sweetest kid. God would never want that.
“Tie up! Tie Up!”
Roy raised his eyes – truly afraid for the first time since that moment in the bar. He saw Daniel and, as Daniel looked back at him, Roy’s mind flooded with memory.
He burst through the front door, shouting his wife’s name.
Silence, more than silence – an eerie stillness. A cold, choking quiet. He strode through the living room to the kitchen. His son sat, asleep in the high chair. Roy rushed to him in relief.
But Caleb wasn’t asleep. He was dead, still belted in, slumped over the tray. A string of cheese clutched in his cold fist and cheerios strewn on the floor, soggy with blood.
Nancy lay sprawled there, her skin drained white, bright against the blood pooled around her. A kitchen knife rested inches from her fingers. She’d cut her own throat. She’d killed their son and cut her own throat.
Daniel held Roy’s gaze for a moment longer.