Note: This is an older story of mine. It had been posted before on an older iteration of this blog but had since been deleted. Originally, this was meant to be the final chapter of my first novel, before near absolutely everything about it was changed. Enjoy.
Too damn cold for September. At least, as far as Jorge could see stepping out onto the front stoop, there was no snow on the ground today. It should still be summertime. Jorge thought for sure they still had another run of sixty degree weather coming up according to the forecast. But here he was, bundling up to his nose, wearing the stupid-looking but extremely warm knitted hat his abuela had got for him – she tried to act like she made it with her own hands but Jorge knew better, never seen her holding a knitting needle in his life. Stepping out from the relative shielded comfort of the stoop to the unlit darkness of the street, Jorge hoped that the coming sun would bring some warmth. Goddamn, that wind though.
The bus stop was only a block and a half away, not far in normal human-approved temperatures but a real slog when the air was made of daggers cutting at your cheeks and your mocos froze like icicles inside yours nostrils. Thankfully, he was early and could take his time – only thing worse than waiting for a bus was barely missing one and having to wait for the next. There was even a streetlight or two still working to light the way. Reaching the crosswalk, Jorge had already begun to breath heavy. Gotta quit smoking, next week, for sure.
Jorge was happy to find the stop shelter and its bench empty, ecstatic that the heat lamp positioned above the bench still buzzed to life at the slap of its red plastic button – must be cold for the city to turn the power on this early. With slowly thawing fingers, Jorge grasped for the pack of cigarettes and lighter deep inside his coat pocket, struggling to ignite a flame with his compromised digits. Inhale. Exhale. He watched as the orange embers consumed the end of the stick. He felt a huge hacking cough coming on, no stopping it. Somewhere close but unseen a siren wailed, distorted as it passed from behind buildings, a brief flash of red strobing light at the street’s end. Ain’t five-o, an ambulance maybe.
“Good morning, sir.” Sound of the voice scared Jorge, made him jump, cough again. Took him a moment to recognize the face smiling at him from the mouth of the shelter, David something, kid from across the street. He worked at a box factory or some shit on the same route to the distribution center, most mornings they rode the bus together. Hate it when he calls me sir, like I’m some viejo. I ain’t your dad, son.
“Shit man, you gonna get cut one of these days, sneaking up on dudes like that.”
David laughed, “Sorry Jorge. Mind if I sit?”
No, get your own damn seat.
“Sure man, free country and whatnot.”
The kid sat slowly, steadying himself on the shelter wall as he did. Not really a kid, young sure, but already had a kid of his own with another on the way. Twenty-three or four, but you’d swear he was twenty years older than that when he talked.
“You know, my dad used to say something like that to me. He’d say that he would beat me silly for creeping around. I guess I was a really quiet walker when I was little. I’d scare him and he’d get mad. And they weren’t idle threats either. He always made good on them.” David laughed, fidgeting with the dark wool scarf wrapped snug across his throat and chin. His forehead gleamed wet with perspiration beneath the bright yellow lamp light.
“Damn, that’s fucked up man. Sorry.”
“No, it’s fine. It’s in the past and I’ve forgiven him.”
“For beating your ass?”
“Of course. I mean, it wasn’t easy but… the way I see it, if Jesus can forgive us for all of our sins… “
Fuck, here we go…
“… then the least I can do is forgive my own father for the mistakes he’s made.”
“I guess man.” Where’s that bus.
Jorge liked David well enough. He was an alright guy to talk to, but when he started going on about all of his Jesus stuff, Jorge started to tune him out. Of course he believed, not saying he didn’t, but David took it too far. Once he got started, there was nothing else he’d like to talk about.
“You read the Bible, right Jorge?”
“Yeah, of course.” Only at church, when he went, when mami forced him at Easter and Christmas.
“I’ve been reading Revelation and you know, with everything going on in the world right now, it really scares me.”
“Whatchu mean?” Side-eyeing the street, Jorge scanned for the distant glow of a bus display. It should be here by now. He should be able to see it creeping its way down the street. He was early but not that early.
“Well, what I mean is, if you read the Bible and take it at face value, it seems like the apocalypse – you know the end of life on Earth – is this great horrible event, full of beasts and plagues and stars falling from the sky. But personally, I don’t think it’ll be that dramatic. I think the end of the world will probably be subtle.”
“Subtle? How can the Earth ending be subtle?” Another siren, this time from the opposite direction.
“I mean, it’ll happen slowly, so slow that we won’t realize the end is coming until we’re in the thick of it.” In the corner of his eye, Jorge caught movement coming from the between the streetlights, the dark silhouette of someone walking with measured, unsteady steps toward the bus stop. Looked to him like a drunk, maybe a junkie.
“Look at what’s happening in the world, Jorge,” David continued, sweat gathering above and around his mouth as he looked toward the purple, emerging skyline, “people hurting one another because of greed or hate. The other day, I watched a video of a man pulling his little girl – she was maybe two years old – pulled her from the rubble of a ruined house hit by a missile. She was lifeless like a doll. I couldn’t imagine having to do something like that.”
“Yeah man, shit’s real fucked up in the world. But like, when hasn’t it been?” Still dark down the street, not a headlight in sight.
“No, not like this. It’s like… everyday, every hour, people find more and more ways to hurt one another. Who else but Satan could be responsible?” David was pale, paler than usual. Across forehead and cheeks, he was sheet white.
“Hey man, David… you alright?”
“No, not really.” David buried his head in his hands, clenching eyes tight closed against tears. From several blocks away, echoing pops rang out against the emerging morning.
“What the fuck?” Jorge could handle gunshots, heard them often enough from beyond his bedroom window growing up or down alleys coming home from school. He could still see the shattered glass covering the carpet of his cousins living room that one time. It was why he had moved as soon as he had the finances, put enough distance as he could between himself and that life. But here, in this neighborhood, it was weird. Unsettling.
“Is it crazy that I wish I hadn’t kissed my wife and daughter goodbye this morning?”
“What?” Jorge stood fast. As he stood, the heat lamp shutting off with a soft click, plunging the bus stop shelter back into the early morning darkness. “Dude, you’re making me super nervous. What’s up, for real?”
David replied with a choking cough, pulling his scarf tighter around his throat with shaking white hands that, upon touching the darkened wool, were immediately stained red.
“Dude, what the fuck?” It was now apparent, even in the low light, that the scarf was absolutely saturated with blood.
“At least, if they hadn’t been there, I could know that Jesus had taken them.” David was crying now. He seemed to give up on holding the scarf, allowing it to sag down his neck to expose the deep and brightly gushing gouge where neck and right shoulder joined. “I could have endured Hell if I knew for sure that they had been saved.”
Swearing, his entire body shaking, Jorge pulled his phone free of its pocket. Clumsily, he tapped out 9-1-1 as two more opposing sirens sounded. “Come on, come on.” Jorge watched as the blood poured so profusely from the other man as he waited for an answer across the line. But from the other end, there was only endless electronic ringing. What the hell am I supposed to do?
With one hand, Jorge did his best to stem the outpour from David’s neck. The kid was breathing heavy and was completely without pigment in his skin, slumping slowly forward in his seat. Beyond David’s sinking head, Jorge could see more movement on the sidewalk. Behind the stumbling junkie, a second figure was also walking in the direction of the bench.
“Hey! Help! We need help over here!” Still, the call rang unanswered in his ear. The dark figures beyond the plexiglass wall of the shelter had no noticeable reaction to his yells. They continued to move toward the shelter at an unchanged pace. Jorge called out again, louder, his voice cracking, hot liquid streaming between the fingers of his left hand.
From behind his head, there was an abrupt smack against plexiglass. It scared Jorge into dropping both his phone and the pressure he’d been applying onto David. Jorge smacked the big red plastic button beside him, activating the overhead heat lamp. In the bright yellow light, Jorge could see a woman pressed up against the clear shelter wall, eyes and mouth open wide. The woman’s skin was the color of stone, her throat a ravaged bloody mess smearing across plexiglass. David’s body slumped forward completely, hitting the concrete with a thud. Somewhere close, a man yelled repeatedly.
Unable to pull his gaze from the blank stare of the bloody woman, Jorge ran from the shelter out into the cold brightening morning.