Their timing was terrible. They both grabbed for a dented can of spaghetti and felt a spark between them. It might’ve been blind panic masquerading as desire, but it still stopped them dead.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” she said back. “I’m Eliza.”
Everyone had dressed in a hurry. Eliza was wearing a long coat—it had the most pockets of anything she owned—over jeans and a T-shirt. Roberto was in his pyjamas and a breakfast-spattered robe, sneakers with no socks. They were both sporting backpacks, unzipped and stuffed with whatever.
“This is crazy,” he said.
“Did you get a good look at it?”
“I mean, yeah. It’s huge!”
The store had mostly been picked clean, barring stomped produce and broken glass. Through the windows, they could see a steady stream of men and women, some dragging children behind them, some clutching babies to their chests. Everyone was running from something in the sky.
Eliza and Roberto were smiling at each other when they first heard it roar.
“My parents have a place,” Eliza said. “It’s not much, but it has food, water, and a hatch so thick you’d need a nuke to get in.”
“Sounds perfect,” said Roberto, before adding: “Wait. Are you asking me to come?”
They’d been running through the streets for hours and Eliza took this opportunity to wheeze, bent over, leaning on her thighs. Roberto placed his hand on her back. There were always reasons to touch each other since the store.
“It’s the end of the world. I can’t leave you to die in your pyjamas, can I?”
“I don’t know how to thank you,” said Roberto.
“Can you cook?”
“You can make me breakfast every morning,” said Eliza, “until it’s safe again.”
She looked back. Behind her, fires burned where the thing had first landed, but sometimes its enormous shadow would block the flames from view. It bellowed; even at this distance, it felt like she was shoved against a nightclub subwoofer.
“Look.” Eliza pulled up her sleeve and pointed at her skin. “Goosebumps.”
Deep in the woods, it was almost possible to pretend. Just the two of them, holding hands, out for a midnight stroll. But every so often they’d stumble across others—shell-shocked families, or strangers hoping for safety in numbers—and they’d exchange nods like half-forgotten school friends.
“Will you miss it?” Roberto whispered, though he wasn’t sure why. “Your home?”
Eliza plucked a spider web from her hair. “The city belongs to that thing now. Turns out, we were only visitors.”
They shared protein bars in careful bites as they moved through the trees. They couldn’t hurry: their phones had died hours ago, and it was too dangerous without light. There were no sirens or screams out here, but the woods still shuddered. It could’ve been the beast, rolling over in its sleep, dreaming of what to destroy tomorrow.
“Listen, your parents—are you sure they won’t mind?”
“But I’m a stranger!”
Eliza laughed, then cut it short. She hoped no one who’d just lost loved ones had heard her. “There are no more second dates. No more long engagements. There’s just us.”
“I could love you,” said Roberto, long pauses between each word. “Could you love me?”
“Maybe,” said Eliza, the ground rumbling underfoot.
They reached the hatch just after dawn. It was buried deep enough that they had to dig until their hands were bloody and raw. “You sure it’s here?” said Roberto.
“It has to be,” said Eliza. “My family wouldn’t lie about it. They always took the apocalypse very seriously.”
“They’re gun nuts, aren’t they?”
The hatch was right where Eliza said it would be. They cleared it of dirt and debris and stared down at it like they were waiting for an elevator.
“Are you ready?” she said, finally.
“Eliza,” said Roberto. Her name still felt new on his tongue. “Most likely we’ll be dead tomorrow. Do you think you love me just because the world’s ending?
“Roberto,” said Eliza, “do you love me because you think I’m interesting, kind, and funny—or because I have food, water, and shelter?
It was suddenly night. Massive wings blotted out the sun. It could have been yesterday’s monster or perhaps something new, the first of many more. They didn’t look up. Instead, they reached for the hatch. Their hands touched, blood mingling. Together, they hauled the hatch open and climbed inside.
About the author:
Martyn Pedler is a writer and academic in Melbourne, Australia. He’s completing a creative PhD on superhero stories and has a number of projects in development in the US.