The Sky is Falling

end of world

Gladys Clapper woke up on Monday with a tightness in her stomach and her bones aching.  When she looked at the calendar and saw that Friday was not only the full moon but also the 13th, she knew her body wasn’t lying.   Something bad was about to happen.

She spotted Mabel Wilson, her neighbor, snow blowing her driveway.  Gladys grabbed her heavy winter coat, threw on her fur lined galoshes and darted out of the house, to share the dismal news with Mabel.

The frozen ground was covered with freshly fallen snow.  Gladys carefully maneuvered the ice crusted steps making certain she didn’t fall and break a leg.  She wasn’t so lucky racing across her yard.  One of her beloved gnomes, hidden beneath piles of snow, tripped her.

Mabel was just doing another sweep of her driveway when she saw Gladys sailing through the air, her arms flailing overhead.  She shut off the snow blower just as Gladys landed with a resounding thud upon the frozen ground.

It took a moment for Gladys to collect her wits.  When she finally opened her eyes, she let out a gasp of surprise to see Mabel, bundled up like an Eskimo in her faux fur parka and Elmer Fudd hat, staring down at her.

“I think something bad is going to happen on Friday . . .” Gladys croaked out.

Mabel looked at Gladys like she’d lost her mind.  “Are you okay?  Maybe I need to call an ambulance . . .”

“Don’t you understand what I’m saying?” Gladys persisted.  “Doomsday is coming this week!  I’m talking about death and destruction.  The end of the world!  Pestilence and plague!”

“The only plague we’re getting is more snow,” Mabel snapped.

“I’m serious,” Gladys insisted.  “My bones ache and my stomach is in knots!”

“Well of course your bones are aching.  You just flew ten feet in the air.  Don’t you realize you’re old?  Your bones are as brittle as icicles.  You’re lucky you didn’t break something!”

“Okay, but remember, Friday is not only the 13th but there’s a full moon as well!”

“Gladys Clapper, I’ve known you for nearly seventy years and never once did I realize you were so superstitious,” Mabel exclaimed.

“I’m not superstitious!” Gladys retorted.  “But I am worried.  I’m going to see Madam Volta. She’ll tell me if my feelings are right.”

Mabel’s curiosity was immediately piqued.  She’d been wanting to go to see the fortune teller who had just opened for business this past summer.  Now, seeing as Gladys was going, it seemed like a perfect time for Mabel to go.

“Can I come?” Mabel asked as she started to push her snow blower back into the garage.

“Really?  You want to come?” Gladys asked.

Mabel nodded her head.  “I need to find out if I’m going to make it through the summer.”

Gladys’ brows pinched together.  “Why wouldn’t you?”

Mabel shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I’m seventy-five.  I’m rolling the dice every day.”

Seeing as Gladys was a little nervous going by herself, she didn’t think it was a bad idea to have Mabel come along with her.  Gladys ran into the house, careful to avoid the gnomes this time, grabbed her money and keys off the hall table and was out the door in seconds.

They drove the short distance to Madam Volta’s shop.  When they stepped inside the building, they came to a dead stop.  The dark room was covered in red velvet and the smell of patchouli assaulted their senses.  Exotic music played on the stereo and candles were lit on every possible surface in the room.

“Would you look at all these candles,” Mabel whispered to Gladys.

“I think it has something to do with calling up the otherworld,” Gladys returned.

“You mean dead people?” Mabel exclaimed, as a shiver of dread rolled down her spine.  “Why would she do that?”

Gladys rolled her eyes.  “Well, how else would she see into the future?”

Mabel shrugged.  “I dunno.  I thought she’d use a crystal ball . . .”

That was an excellent point and one Gladys hadn’t thought of.  “Well, I suppose she could use one of them too . . .”

Their conversation halted when Madam Volta stepped out from behind the beaded curtain separating the main area from the dark hallway.  If they expected Madam Volta to be dressed in a satin turban and silk scarves, they were sadly disappointed.

She stood before them in a pair of torn jeans and an old sweatshirt that looked like it could use a good washing.  Her face was puffy, her eyes bloodshot and whoever had done her hair, really needed to find a new profession.  The black and red hair stood erect atop her head like a medieval flail.  She didn’t look like a lady who communicated with the spirits as much as she looked one who drank spirits.

“Welcome to Madam Volta Future Teller,” Madam Volta said in a voice that sounded like she’d just downed a pack of Pall Mall’s.

Mabel’s brows pinched downward.  “Don’t you mean fortune teller?”

Madam Volta shrugged.  “Is it not the same?”

Mabel was going to argue the point but she never got a chance.  “Don’t make her mad . . .,” Gladys hissed.  She turned to Madam Volta.  “I’m Gladys Clapper and I have some questions I need answering.”

“I have many spirits clamoring to talk to you,” Madam Volta told her.

Gladys’ eyes widened.  Many spirits?  That didn’t sound good.

“Are any of them named Jack Daniels or Jim Beam?” Mabel asked because she was positive the lady in front of her had to be drunk.

“No.  But one is named Morton.”

Gladys thought her knees were going to buckle.  What the hell would Morton want to talk to her about?  They’d been married for thirty-five years and the man had hardly spoken two dozen words to her in that whole time.  Now, he’s been dead for three years and he wanted to talk?   It was a little too late in Gladys opinion.

“Well go figure! Morton is here . . .” she exclaimed, looking around the room as if the man would appear at any moment.

“He said to get rid of the gnomes,” Madam Volta told Gladys.  “They scare people.”

Gladys’ eyes widened to the size of saucers.  “But they’re so cute!”

Mabel shook her head.  “Morton’s right.  They’re downright frightening.”

A frown creased Gladys brow as she turned back to Madam Volta.  “Is there anything else?”

Madam Volta nodded her head.  “You’re about to lose a lot of money.”

“I am?” Gladys exclaimed, clutching a hand to her heart.   She turned to Mabel.  “I knew I should have listened to my stockbroker.  He warned me to get rid of that stupid stock Morton bought.  I didn’t though . . .” Gladys grumbled.

Madam Volta shook her head.  “It’s not your stocks.  Your money is falling out of your pocket.”

Gladys looked down to see Madam Volta was right.  She shoved the money back into her pocket then sat down at the table Madam Volta had indicated.  Mabel quickly followed.

The table was covered in a white lacy cloth.  In the center was a large bubble covered in red velvet.  With a sweeping flourish, Madam Volta ripped the cloth off the mound to reveal a crystal ball.

Madam Volta chanted unintelligible words as she stared in fixated concentration at the crystal globe.  Finally, in her deep mysterious voice, said, “I see many unusual things.  Things no one could imagine.”

Both Mabel and Gladys eyes widened at her words.  “Doomsday kind of things . . .?” Gladys whispered in a fearful voice.

“Something unexpected will happen,” Madam Volta murmured as her hands hovered over the crystal ball. “What has always been will be no more.  What once was, will cease to exist.  Things will be new and different.”

“Different good or different bad?” Mabel asked, enthralled.

Madam Volta turned her dark eyes in the direction of the women.  A shiver of fear rolled over them.  It was palatable in the room.

“It is too soon to tell . . .” Madam Volta replied before she slumped down in her seat, a great whoosh of air escaping her.  The room went silent as the woman’s eyes closed.

Gladys and Mabel looked at each other.  Neither was certain whether the reading was over or not.

“Oh, dear Lord, what should we do?” Mabel wondered.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m going to let Ben know!” Gladys replied as she jumped out of her seat.  She tossed the money on the table and bolted out the door.

“Wait!  I didn’t get a chance to find out if I’m going toes up this spring!” Mabel cried out as she chased after Gladys.

“Well, of course, you are!” Gladys said as she darted out of the building.  “You heard her.  The world is coming to an end!”

Gladys and Mabel went directly to the Police Station.  Ben had just come out of his office when Gladys and Mabel burst into the station.

“What’s wrong?” Ben asked when he saw the worried looks on the elderly ladies faces.

“The world is coming to an end . . .” Gladys rushed out.

Abe’s eyes widened.  “You don’t say?”

“It’s true!  I woke up today with a really bad feeling in my bones and my stomach was queasy,” Gladys told the men.

“Don’t forget to tell them how you flew through the air and landed on the hard ground,” Mabel interjected.

“That’s true.  I did fly through the air, but that’s not why my body hurt,” Gladys corrected.

“Well, it certainly didn’t help it,” Mabel pointed out.

“I’m sure that the world is not coming to an end,” Ben said trying to calm the two women down.  It didn’t help.  Neither women seemed interested in being calmed down.

“Oh yes, it is,” Gladys insisted.  “Madam Volta saw it in her crystal ball!”

“Well, to be fair, she didn’t say it was coming to an end.  She said that something unexpected was going to happen,” Mabel corrected.  She frowned at Ben and Abe.  “We left so quickly I didn’t get a chance to find out if I was going to make it through the spring . . .”

“Would you let that go?” Gladys retorted.  “Didn’t you hear me?  No one is going to make it through the week!”  She grabbed her keys and spun on her heels.  “Come on, Mabel we need to let the rest of the town know . . .”

And before Ben could stop them, both women were out the door.

“Well, what are you going to do about this?” Abe asked.

Ben looked at him like he’d lost his mind.  “Do?  I’m not going to do anything,” he told Abe.  “Because nothing is going to happen.”

Abe frowned at the casual tone he heard in Ben’s voice.  “Are you kidding me?  We’ve got terrorists coming and you’re not doing anything about it?”

“Terrorist?  They never said anything about terrorists,” Ben replied.

“Well of course it’s going to be terrorists,” Abe retorted.  “Don’t you remember that Red Sox blanket.”

It took Ben a moment to recall what Abe was talking about.  “You mean the blanket found at the nativity scene?”

Abe nodded his head.  “Yup.  Clearly there’s a terrorist bent on destroying our town,” Abe told him.  “I think they’re using it as a warning.”

Ben let out an exhausted sigh.  “As far as I know, terrorists don’t announce their intentions ahead of time.”

Abe wasn’t happy with Ben’s answer.  “You know, you really need to take things more seriously.”

“I’ll take things seriously when they are serious,” Ben retorted.

Ben had completely forgotten about Gladys’ ridiculous worry until the next day when he had gone to Mo’s Deli for lunch.  He was surprised to see the deli locked up tighter than Fort Knox and as dark as midnight inside.  He was forced to go to Burger, Burger, Burger instead.  He would have much preferred a triple meat grinder from Mo’s than the sloppy mess tucked inside the grease laden bag.

“Mo’s is closed,” Ben complained when he returned to the station.  He handed Abe a burger.

“I know.” Abe replied, looking up from the book he was reading.  He grabbed the burger Ben handed him.  “He had to get out of town pretty fast.”

Ben knew Mo’s daughter lived in Florida with her husband and children.  He hadn’t heard there was a problem.  But that didn’t mean anything either.

Handing Abe an order of fries, Ben asked, “Family emergency?”

With a napkin, Abe swiped at the burger grease that dribbled down his chin.  “I guess you could say that.  When your life is being threatened it’s pretty much an emergency.”

That news got Ben’s attention.  “What the hell happened?”

It didn’t take Abe long to regal Ben with the details.  Apparently, bets were being placed how the end of the world would arrive.  Mo made the grievous mistake of suggesting the Aberdeen Ice Men would lose the Frozen Cup, as the trophy was called, to Lake Placid Olympians.  It wasn’t exactly an outrageous prediction seeing as the Ice Men had lost the ice hockey championship to the Olympians the past four years.  The Ice Men took exception to the prediction, though.  There was no way they were going to let the stinking Olympians have another shot at the ‘cup’ once again.

Realizing his mistake, Mo apologized profusely then got the hell out of Aberdeen until, either the end of the world arrived or the fuss blew over.  The way Mo figured, it was better to let Armageddon come to Aberdeen while he was soaking up the sun on the beaches of Florida then being lynched by an angry, frozen mob in Aberdeen.

“The town has gone crazy,” Ben grumbled, only to notice the book sitting on Abe’s desk next to the crumpled burger wrapper.  “What the hell are you reading?”

“The bible,” Abe replied as if it was an everyday occurrence.

Ben looked at Abe in surprise.  “You’re reading the bible and not doing Word Jumbles?”

Abe’s bushy brows snapped downward.  “You don’t have to appear so shocked!  It’s not like I’ve never read the bible.”

“But you’ve given up on religion,” Ben pointed out.

“That’s not true,” Abe argued.  “I’m what I like to call, a distance believer.  Kind of like a distant learner.  I like to keep a nice buffer between me and the church.  However, I’m thinking about going back.  It’s never too late,” he added, then frowned.  “Well, unless Friday is the end of the world.  Then it might be a bit too late.”

“Don’t tell me you actually believe all this nonsense?”

Abe shrugged.  “I guess you could say I’m hedging my bets.”  He paused for a moment before asking, “I’m thinking about going to see Frank and having a confession.  Do you think I need to make an appointment for that?”

“Weren’t you once a Methodist?” Ben asked, confused.

“Yes,” Abe admitted.  “But the way I figure it, you can never have too many religions praying for you.  Besides, if those aliens come to take over our town tomorrow, I want to be prepared.”

“I thought you said it was going to be terrorists?”

“Flip a coin,” Abe replied.  “There’s a fifty-fifty chance it could go either way.”

Ben thought there was a fifty-fifty chance Abe had lost his mind.  “I don’t think we need to worry about either of them,” he told Abe.

“Now you see, that’s why we need to worry,” Abe retorted.  “We’re so unprepared it’s going to be easy for someone with nefarious intentions to wipe us out.”

Ben rolled his eyes.  “We’re not prepared because there’s nothing to prepare for.”

“Oh yeah?” Abe retorted.  “Well, then if I were you, I’d take this here bible and do a little more reading.  Your soul could probably use some saving.”

Ben let out an exasperated sigh.  “I’d rather do your Word Jumbles.”  And with that he walked into his office.

Abe wasn’t the only one who had gone crazy.  Like a ripple turning into a wave, it wasn’t long before the impending end of the world was on everyone’s lips.  Speculation ran rampant.  From Abe’s terrorist invading Aberdeen to swarms of locusts and pestilence.  Everything was on the table.

George Betts, a local lawyer in town, who once had more available appointments than he did customers suddenly found he didn’t have time to eat or sleep.  He was too busy writing wills for the locals.  Warren Henderson, from Henderson and Sons Mortuary, was so busy meeting with prospective clients that he completely forgot about the funeral for Jasper Martin.  He only remembered when an angry crowd of Martin’s began beating on the mortuary door.

Ben knew things had gotten completely out of control when a good many of the residents started to withdrew their money from the Aberdeen National Bank then they drove straight to the grocery store.  It wasn’t long before Stop ‘n Shop’s grocery shelves were mostly empty.  Only the stuff people didn’t like were left there, like vegetables and tofu.

Wyatt Westerman stopped Ben on Thursday morning.  “Where is the shelter in place?”

“What?” Ben asked in confusion.

“The shelter in place!” Wyatt roared.  “Where are you going to store us until this doomsday is over?”

“There’s not going to be a doomsday,” Ben burst out. “So, there’s no need for a shelter!”

Wyatt’s brows shot downward.  “Oh sure.  Isn’t that just like you to keep it a secret from us just to keep your family safe.”

“Trust me Wyatt, that’s not a concern for me . . .” Ben shot back as he stormed up the steps of the police station.

Father Frank, seeing an opportunity to draw in new parishioners, called for an all-night prayer session.  People flocked to the event, including Abe.  The session started promptly at six o’clock on Thursday morning and ran straight through the night.

When Friday morning arrived and the town was still standing, Ben thought the drama was over.

He was wrong.

He knew it the minute he spotted a popular Albany news station van rolling into town.  When he saw Rose Smith, from the Aberdeen Almanac and Henry Walkman, from the Aberdeen Times, two competing papers, meet with the reporter from Albany in the park, Ben knew he had to intercede.  He had just entered the park when Mack, the fire chief, came up to him.

“Looks like we’re getting our fifteen minutes of fame,” Mack said as they continued across the park.

Ben was about to reply when he heard loud noises overhead.  He looked up to see a fleet of helicopters hovering above.  It didn’t take him any time at all to determine who they were.  The Air National Guard had arrived and with them plenty of fire power.  Even now, Ben could see soldiers clinging to the edge of the landing skids, their rifles poised for defense, as they circled the town square.

The reporter, not wanting to miss the story, waved frantically to the cameraman to catch the action.  Swinging his camera around, the cameraman filmed the hysteria that was mounting when suddenly, the doors to the church opened and the bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived prayer warriors emerge.

It was then that a hush descended on the town as one of the prayer warriors spotted something off in the distance.  “Oh, my God!  It’s here!  It’s here!”

The warriors, realizing they might need to say a few more prayers, dropped down to their knees and clasped their hands together, right there on the steps of the church.  It was only as the object got closer that people began to realize their mistake.

Dressed in a tight neon green and orange sweat suit, was Maybelline, trudging past them, one laborious foot in front of the other.  Everyone swung their gazes to an embarrassed Gladys.

Throwing up her hands and shrugging, she said, “Well, Madam Volta did say something unexpected was going to happen . . .”

Ben couldn’t argue with that.  Maybelline running was definitely unexpected.


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