My Second Time

My first / second date with Sophie Grant started off weird and went downhill from there.

I’ll cop to the weirdness being mostly in my own head, at least initially, but there was also some objective oddity before it ended (before it ALL ended.  Again).

It started with what I would term “inverse deja vu”:  the sense that you have been someplace before, even though it is your first time there, but everything about your sense of familiarity  is just a little bit wrong.  We had decided not to change perfectly acceptable plans we had made before she twisted her ankle the day before.  Again / For the first time, I stood at a tall two-top table in the Lava Lamp, holding the table open against throngs of greedy imbibers.  But even though this was just like I recalled from my dream/memory, everything else was just the slightest . . . bit . . . off.

This non-dreamt version of the Lava Lamp did not have the same problem with extremes of temperature as what I had imagined/remembered.  Where before, you were either too close to the live lava lamps lining the walls or sitting directly beneath an icy AC vent, the real Lava Lamp was well-outfitted with slowly turning ceiling fans which nicely normalized the air’s temperature (even if it did nothing for the overpriced drinks).  Why would everything else be exactly like my dream, but the most vivid detail of all be completely wrong?

I could not speculate on that line for long, because she entered, and Sophie was both wrong and — oh — so right.  Sophie Grant entered the bar with an anticipatory half-smile on her lips and a questing gaze.  I had to remind myself that we’d yet to actually meet in person, but seeing her there looking for me, she seemed so familiar, so . . . inevitable that I began to doubt the un-reality of what I had considered a dream.  She was not just someone I’d seen on Facebook.  I had to have met her before.

This Sophie and Facebook-memory-dream-Sophie both had above the shoulder auburn hair. They each were small, petite, and pixie-ish, with dimples when they grinned and slightly upturned noses. Each version’s eyes were framed by hipster-ish glasses which leant her the appearance of a particularly young and trendy grade-school teacher, but this is where the inverse deja vu started to kick in.  Though she seemed soooo familiar, details were unexpectedly different, and thus jarring.  Dream-Sophie had worn black granny horn-rims.  The real Sophie preferred more modern sky-blue plastic frames.  This Sophie wore a provocative black cocktail dress with a tight, short skirt rather than the dream’s white translucent blouse and jeans.  And this one walked with a discernible limp.

I smiled directly at her and waved to get her attention against the throng.  She locked gazes with me, smiled back — dazzlingly so — and hobbled over.  “Hi!  Josh?” she asked, raising her voice to be heard over the mix of club music and the low mumble of the bar crowd.

“Yes! Hi, Sophie.  It’s great to finally meet you.” I looked down at her legs, which was not at all an unpleasant view. Marring their athletic loveliness, however, was her left ankle, wrapped in a supportive gauze bandage beneath the smokey tint of her hose.  Instead of the high heels you’d expect with her cocktail dress, she wore more sensible and comfortable flats.

Her gaze followed mine down and she raised her foot off the floor to pose and display her ankle as if it was her proudest feature.  “You noticed my gimp act, I see.  I’m really, really sorry about yesterday and whatever plans you’d had for tonight, but long walks or dancing until dawn are equally off the table.”

I shook my head. “No, no, it’s perfectly fine.  Yesterday’s missed date is no big deal, and as for no dancing, you get a stay of execution from death by my excessive left-footed-ness.  I actually have to register my dancing shoes as lethal weapons wherever I live.  I have to cross state lines barefooted.”

“Really?”  She grinned, delightfully.

“The only thing worse is my singing voice.  There’s been so much carnage from me crooning in the shower, I’m only allowed to take sponge baths while wearing a ball gag now.”

Sophie’s eyes widened.  “Wow.”

Heat flashed in my face and I grimaced.  “That, uh, came out kinkier than intended.”

Her smile returned, softer, but more natural.  “It’s okay, Josh.  These semi-blind dates always make me a little nervous too.  I am sorry about the ankle, though.  I don’t want to mess up your plans because I was an idiot.”

“Not to worry.  I’m resourceful.  I was ready to walk the boardwalk or endanger you with dancing, whatever you liked.  But my master plan had us spending most of our time off our feet entirely.”  Her eyebrow rose quizzically and I quickly added, “Talking!  I mean off our feet talking, chatting, getting to know one another, that sort of thing.  Not the other thing that can be done off your feet that you may have inferred from that.  Of course, that can be done on your feet too, if you’re feeling at all athletic, but so can talking.  And talking is great!  Talking is all I was angling for.  Nothing else.”

“Josh –”

“I should really stop talking, because it is clearly not my forte.”

She smiled demurely, leaned in, and kissed me.  Her lips were soft and they clung to mine ever so lightly as we parted, her lipstick leaving behind a slightly adhesive film upon my lips.  Sophie gripped my arm and looked up at me, now closer to me, seemingly without taking a step.  Had I moved in to her, or she in toward me?

This had definitely not happened in my dream.  Hell, we hadn’t even gotten a chance to talk.

“Josh, I’m not easy, but there’s no reason this evening can’t be.  Let’s both just calm ourselves and have a good time.  No plans, no pressure, no expectations, and no nerves.  Okay?”

I smiled back.  A hint of chocolate cherries lingered on my mouth and my head swum pleasantly.  “Okay.  What would you like to drink?”

The serving goth from the dream never bothered to show, so, a few minutes later, I made my way back to the tall round table she had navigated to, where she now sat upon a high stool, distractedly rubbing her ankle.  She smiled at me and the drink, in that order, which I hoped was a good sign.  I gave her Sunrise over and nursed another single malt scotch, neat.

“So, what’s the story with the ankle, Soph?”

“Well, as luck would have it, yesterday morning I was discussing the topic of you with Lena –”

I nodded.  “Richard’s wife.”  Richard, with whom I’d spilled my insane dream to earlier.

“One and the same.  We had just finished a particularly brutal Pilates class and she was giving me the lowdown on this Joshua Montgomery fellow.”

“Only good things I hope.”

Sophie grinned.  “Ah, you can hope for a lot of things, but that might be a forlorn one.  Nothing too awfully terrible, though.  Anyways, my mind is swimming with visions of the evening before us and I simply do not see the aerobics step some careless fool has left out of the way amongst all the other aerobics steps.  I trip over the damned thing and roll my ankle.  Yada, yada, yada, a wrapped near-sprain and the end of my dancing plans.  Sorry.”

“And what kind of dancing had you been looking forward to me disappointing you with?  Are you a salsa girl or an afficionado of the hip and the hop?  Or are you truly daring and a mistress of the venerable chicken dance?”

She laughed, then took on a false sobriety.  “I usually start with the twerkin’ and the krumpin’, then when I’m good and drunk I go into a fusion ballroom hula.”

I laughed back. Damn if she wasn’t a complete delight.  I adopted her same mock-serious demeanor.  “Yes, the ballroom hula.  That’s fair enough for a noble amateur such as yourself.  I, on the other hand, have mastered the much more difficult breakdancing Charleston.  My performance of it has been favorably described as a crack addict undergoing electro-shock therapy whilst wrestling an imaginary eel.  It’s quite impressive.”

We both busted up, laughing until tears streamed from our eyes.  By the time we got our sillies under control, we had ended up somehow holding hands atop the small round table.  She looked at them, and then we looked at each other.  Neither of us pulled away.  Just the opposite, in fact, she gave my fingers a squeeze and adopted an impish grin.

That gave me a flash of heat and I struggled to keep us talking.  “So, I work with Richard in university admin, and that’s about as boring and uninteresting as it sounds, though Richard himself is a character.  But how do you know him?  Is it through Lena at the school’s gym?”

Sophie nodded. “Originally, yes. I go exercise early in the morning before heading in to work at the College of Sciences.  Lena goes in before Richard has to be at work, so we’re practically on the same schedule and we kept ending up in classes together.  Eventually, Lena became my yoga –slash– Pilates buddy.  But I don’t know Richard just through Lena.”

“Oh? How else?”

Her grin turned wicked.  “Richard has been known to take a class or two himself.”

I matched her expression, gleeful.  My mind boggled at the possibility of Richard in an exercise class.  “Tell.  Me.  Everything.”

“It’s as ludicrous as you can imagine.  Richard is not a small fellow.  He’s a man of healthy if not healthful portions.”

“That is him, indeed.”

She pulled her hands from mine, posed, and waved one hand slowly down her body, which split the attention I had been paying to her story very effectively.  Pretty girls putting themselves on display can have a very distracting effect upon me.  But she continued.  “Now imagine our Richard doing yoga in a class full of women. He’s the only Y chromosome for hundreds of yards, so he tries his best to fit in.  And he does, but in a manner which completely defeats the purpose.  Are you ready?”

“I’m ready.”

She slowly gestured down her lovely flank again.  “Here it is:  Richard Solomon in a fuchia and teal leotard, with bright pink knitted leg-warmers.”

“Oh, God, no.”

Sophie laughed as she spoke, while all I could get out was a chuffing, incredulous chuckle.  “Oh, God, yes.  You should see it.  The man does positively indecent things to spandex.”

“You must film this.  That’s your mission in life now:  Get Flashdance Richard’s image on record and send it to me.  I can’t go on until I see it for myself.”

“I don’t know if that’s possible.  Assuming the camera even survives taking the picture, I’m pretty certain that exposing the rest of the world to it is a sure sign of the apocalypse.”

She meant it as a joke, but it hit me like a brick to the face.  Her laugh and her smile died as she saw the expression I only felt draw my features down.

I quickly tried to recover, shaking my head and forcing a smile.  Lamely, I attempted to pick up the great momentum we’d had going only moments before.  “I dreamed about you!”

Now, why the hell had I said that?

Sophie considered that for a second and the corner of her mouth ticked upwards.  She placed her hands back in mine purposefully.  “Really? And what sort of dream was this?”

I nodded.  “I know what you’re thinkin’, but it wasn’t that kind of dream.  It was just a regular sort of dream, nonsensical, and without any bearing on reality, but you featured prominently.  You were the best part of the whole thing.  Very funny, very smart, and quite lovely in black horn-rim glasses.”

She leaned forward over the table, still softly gripping my hands.  “That’s sweet, though I’ve never tried out horn-rims before.  Maybe I should.”  She looked down, seemingly hesitant.  “I’m sorry if the reality doesn’t necessarily measure up to the version in your dream.”

I leaned forward, touched her chin, and tilted her head back up.  I grinned in relief that I had successfully recovered from my momentary apocalyptic brain-fart.  “Oh no, you’ve got nothing to apologize for.  The dream you pales before the real version.  I’m glad I woke up to meet you, because this is infinitely better than anything my imagination could have conjured.”

There were no cues, but we both leaned in simultaneously and kissed.  With our eyes closed and the music somehow hushed, the entire world became that soft, tender connection, the indescribable, chaotic interplay of our lips and just the barest, most intimate and tentative touch of her tongue.  The moment was innocent, yet filled with passionate potential.  I imagined we were a sight to be seen, without making a scene.  It was perfect.

After a pleasant interlude, we parted and she squeezed my hands.  My mind buzzed ineffectually, trying to start a new clever thought, a new line to keep it all going, then restarting it.  I felt so wonderfully off-kilter, my mind stuttered.  Eventually, I stammered lamely as we looked into each other’s eyes, “W-w-would you, um, like another drink?”

Sophie opened her mouth to speak, but her eyes suddenly widened, and she looked down at her watch.  “Oh! I can’t believe we almost forgot it.  Come on!  No time for drinks.  Come on, let’s go!”

She grabbed my hand in a grip that would not be denied and pulled me from my seat.  We threaded our way through the growing evening bar crowd and out of the Lava Lamp.  I could only toddle along with a look of curious trust upon my face.  “Where are we going?  What are you late for?  Is there a rabbit and a queen involved?”

She looked back and her smile dazzled with excitement.  “The sun should be fully set, silly.  They said tonight after sundown was when the aurora would be at its peak.  I want to watch it with you!”

Most people don’t realize this, but you can often pass weeks without once thinking of Alfred Hitchcock.  Or Isaac Newton.  Or of the fact that there has never been a successfully bred natural blue rose.  There are all manner of things that sit at the back of your mind, information that has been gathered in passing and then simply lies there, dormant, waiting to be called upon.  Then, once someone mentions Rear Window, or calculus, or the unnaturally purple hue of the latest attempt at a blue rose, it all comes rushing back.

That was such a moment for me.  Until she said it, I had given not one thought to the uncanny auroras that had appeared nightly all over the globe.  I had spared not a single thought to the havoc the unprecedented solar activity of late had wreaked upon satellite comms and cellphone reception.  Just that afternoon, Richard’s call had sounded like an AM radio signal bounced too many times off the stratosphere, but I had not attached any significance to it.

Now that she had brought it up, however, it all came rushing back to me, almost as if it was someone else’s memory borrowed at need, much like how the reality of the night before had interposed itself over the memory of my all-to-realistic dream.  Information injected, blotting out what I’d thought I knew before.

I now remembered the auroras, but they also somehow felt wrong.  Dangerous.

We emerged out onto the sidewalk, where I had previously dreamed of looking up and dying in a nuclear fire.   Stroughman’s, where we had dinner reservations in about half an hour, lay across the street from the Lava Lamp. Above us, the newly darkened night sky and the few stars or planets that could outshine the city’s light pollution filled the firmament.  There was not a cloud to be seen, and to the east there rose a waxing three-quarter moon.  But the most distinctive sight was the aurora.

No longer the sole property of the northern or southern polar skies, sheets and ribbons of gently shifting colors blazed across the heavens.  Sophie looked up and sighed.  She stood directly in front of me, facing away, and wrapped my arms around herself.  I made no protest and used the opportunity to lean slightly down to smell the fresh shampoo scent of her hair.

My heart raced, but after a moment I realized it was not because of my proximity to her.  I felt uneasy, near panic, but there did not seem to be any reason why.  A few others had joined us outside to also check out the aurora, but they were not a threat.  What was it that unnerved me so?  What about the incredible night sky was ruining my enjoyment of that same sky, not to mention the close embrace of the wonderful girl with me?

Sophie leaned into my shoulder and turned her head so she could look up at me and night sky simultaneously.  “The news said tonight was predicted to be the best viewing worldwide.  They’ve even started to see the aurora at the equator! I asked one of the 1000 pound heads at work about it, and he said this was unprecedented, the confluence of the sun’s eleven year sunspot cycle with what they’re calling the Maunder Maximum.  They actually had to delay the Dragon capsule’s launch because they feared for the astronaut’s safety in case of a CME.”

See-Em-Eee.  It sounded so innocent and harmless when she said it, but it induced a chilling horror in me.  The dream came back.  During my near-prophetic nightmare, the world had come to an end in nuclear fire, triggered by territorial aggression.  No missiles streaked through the atmosphere now, but the acronym CME filled me with the same sort of dread.

A Coronal Mass Ejection, a solar flare to end all solar flares as part of the sun’s fiery atmosphere detached itself from the star to hurtle through space.  It was a bogeyman of near-space astronomy, as unlikely yet inevitable as the Earth being struck by a rogue asteroid.  The CME’s polite astrophysicists talked about were the kind that torched satellite electronics and endangered astronauts with a few extra rads.  No one talked about the other kind, the kind that could chop straight through our planet’s protective magnetic field to flay the Earth itself.  No on talked about it, but suddenly it was all I could think of.

I turned Sophie around in my arms and held her away from me, my hands gripping her shoulders.  She took on a quizzical look as she saw the terrified expression on my face, but then her attention shifted to something over my shoulder and her jaw dropped in astonishment.  Before I could say anything, she burst out with, “Oh, wow!  Check out the moon!”

I furrowed my brow in frustration, but turned around in spite of myself.  My jaw dropped too.  The three-quarter moon shone like a spotlight.  The aurora nuzzled against it, but those shifting, nebulous ribbons of color were nothing compared to Luna’s silver radiance.  The moon shone so brightly — and amped up even greater as we watched — that all its features washed away.  One moment, the man in the moon was more visible than he had ever been before, and the next his face whited out until only a lopsided circle floated in the sky.

The moon appeared terrifyingly bright — bright with the reflected light of a sun gone mad.

I whipped back around to Sophie.  “We have to go now.  We have to find shelter, as deep and strong as we can!”

“What are you talking about?  Are you OK?”  Her face looked concerned and more than a touch fearful of me.

My mind overran with a thousand different thoughts.  It took 8 minutes for light emitted from the Sun to reach us — a factoid left over from a youthful passion for science I never had the math to make use of.  How fast would a CME travel through space?  Was the increased irradiance a pre-cursor that might give us days or weeks, or was the plasma shock nearly here?  How deep would we have to go to survive?  Would I have time to gather supplies before the atmosphere was set alight?  Was the sunlit half of the earth already a melted parking lot of bubbling glass or would the burn be gradual?  What of the night-side?  Would we meet our doom at dawn, or would it come sooner?  How much time did we have!?!

With my brain in vapor-lock and my expression frozen in terror, Sophie must have freaked.  She wrenched herself from my grasp and backed away.  I shook myself back to the present and reached for her again.  She turned, now as panicked as I was if for a different reason, and started to run off.

She made it two steps before she came to graceless, stumbling halt.  I ran up next to her and saw her staring blankly ahead, so I turned my gaze to the same view and all thoughts of survival vanished from my mind.

The sun rose again across the western horizon.  It was not quite an accelerated sunset in reverse, but it looked like that at first.  Orange light leaked up from the limn of the horizon due West, growing in thickness and intensity quickly.  However, it did not separate from the earth-sky interface in a ball of light like a sunrise would.  Instead, the band of hellish light grew fatter and spread wider, leaking both up into the sky and down over the flat curve of the land.
The growing line upon the horizon was fire, or more accurately a supersonic firestorm lit by the impact of the unprecedented coronal mass ejection with the day-lit side of the planet.  The atmosphere itself was ablaze, and if there was a chance at all of it self-extinguishing, it would be long after it passed us by.  Even if a few hardy souls in some deep, stocked cave or bunker managed to ride out the initial conflagration, I doubted there would be enough oxygen or life left to sustain them after all their cans and bottles gave out.

It was the end of the world.

Again.

The power went out, killing the lights and all the background music leaking from the bar, but it did not render us into darkness or silence.  By now there was enough scattered light from the fireline to see well by, as well as enough notice of the event to bring up an accompaniment of cries, screams, and the babble of hundreds of unanswerable questions. Sophie looked over at me and gave me a defeated half-smile.  “Sorry I ran from you.  I didn’t get it.”

I shrugged.  “Don’t worry about it. I haven’t been articulating myself very well tonight.”

She nodded and stood closer to me.  I put my arm around her and she leaned her head into my shoulder. “I had a nice time,” she said.

“So, how are my chances for a second date?”

Sophie laughed and then sobbed.  Ahead of us, the fireline was accelerating as it left the horizon behind, gaining horrible, roiling definition as it immolated everything in its path faster than the speed of sound.  Not much longer then.

She regained control of her voice and said, “It would be a sure thing if it was up to me, but I think we may be overcome by events.”

I answered her so softly even I could barely hear it.  “I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”

Sophie buried her face into my chest and I held her as tightly as I could.  “Josh. . . .”

The solar-flare-spawned wave of burning atmosphere rolled over us in the blink of an eye.  There was a moment of indescribable heat and light, as well as something too brief to be called pain and then —

 

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An Apocalyptic Hangover

The first morning of my second life began with me flailing out of bed onto the floor, breaking the fall with my face.  I admit to some confusion.  I had ended the evening by screaming and flashing into a supersonic wisp of vapor and ash, pretty much not contemplating any possibility of waking the next morning.  Yet, there I was, nose to hardwood, staring down some very dangerous-looking dust bunnies.

Was this heaven?

Probably not.  Heaven would have better maid-service.

Could this be hell?

Doubtful.  While the dust bunnies were epic, the most lethal terror below my bed was a wadded up pile of sweaty workout gear.  Disgusting?  Sure.  Demonic pestilence?  Not quite.

So, if I was un-vaporized, and this was neither heaven nor hell, then the only possible explanation was that I had dreamed the whole thing.  But if I dreamed the events of the night before, where did my real memories end and the imagined ones begin?  (Ah, sweet, sweet naivety.  How I miss your innocent ignorance.)

A noise interposed itself in my thoughts, a shrill, electronic warbling that cut into my gray matter like a hot knife.  I struggled up from my ass-over-teakettle position on the floor, my head pounding, and grabbed up the phone.  “Hello?” I asked, trying not to sound as awful as I felt.

“Did I wake you, Princess?”  Richard Solomon’s too cheery voice pummeled my ear.  Richard was a good guy and a friend for nearly a decade, with a wife and a cute-as-a-button little girl.  Those qualities — and the fact he was currently out of reach — kept me from attempting murder.

I worked up saliva and closed my eyes to relieve some of the pain I felt.  “I’m alive.  I wasn’t too sure about that last night.”

“Yeah, I know it was disappointing, but she had good reason to cancel.  You shouldn’t take things so hard.”

For a moment, I re-experienced the confusion of the moment before.  My eyes squinted open.  “What are you talking about, Richard?”

“Sophie cancelling your blind date?  After she hurt her ankle?  That interruption to your grand plan which precipitated your cosmic bender?”

Dimly, new / other memories swam to the surface.  Talking with Sophie on the phone.  Rescheduling the date to tonight because she had twisted her ankle.  Drinking myself to a stupor until Richard had poured me into a cab.  As these memories drifted (back?) into my forebrain, the events of the imagined date and its apocalyptic ending shuffled off into the category of dreams and meanderings where they should have always been.  I shook my head, clearing it like an Etch-A-Sketch.  “Yeah, yeah.  I recall now.  Thank you for getting me home.”

“Don’ mention it, hombre.  But you only have five hours before you meet her tonight, so hop to it!”

“Five hours is plenty of time.  I need coffee and bacon grease now.”

“Five hours is plenty of time for the cool, serene, and practiced — like me.  It’s about half of what your ass needs.  Get up!  Shit, shower, and shave, not necessarily in that order, but efficiently and pronto!”

“Fine, fine.  Goodbye.”

“No, no.  Put me on speaker and get busy.  You hang up now, you’ll lie down for a nap and blow every chance you’ve been provided for this girl.  Besides, I want to hear the water roll off your bare skin.”

“Sick bastard.  I’m not that sorta’ goil.”

Richard laughed.  “We both know that’s a lie.  You’re just let down that I don’t want to video chat.”

I chuckled too, but did as he asked.  Minutes later, I drew a razor over the lathered stubble on my jawline, turning my face from sandpaper to spottily bleeding smoothness.  Richard babbled about some inanity or other, but I finally broke in, no longer able to fully reconcile my two sets of memories.  “Wait, wait, wait.  I . . . had a nightmare last night . . . about the date.”

He paused.  “The date with Sophie tonight?

“No, the original date with her, from last night.  I dreamed that the whole thing happened as originally planned, but — and get this — it all ended with the literal end of the world.”  Slowly, I retraced the imagined events of the night, meeting her at the Lava Lamp, initially hitting it off, then the interruption by the panicked guy with his phone heralding the nuclear fires to come.

Richard stayed quiet through the whole recollection.  When I finished with my own fiery end, there was a long pause until . . . . “Hmmm, yes.  Twitter is how I always imagined the apocalypse being announced.  Metatron and Gabriel are soooo 13th century.”

I grinned and washed my razor.  “Armageddon does tend to trend very quickly.”

“I hear the final trump is going out as a meme on Facebook.”

I splashed water in my face and towelled off.  “I tell you I had a dream about being nuked on a blind date, and all I get is quips?”

“Well Jesus, Josh, what else do you want?  A psychological breakdown of why you’re associating this great girl with the end of your world?  One thing does come to mind, though.”

“And what is that?”

“It’s the fact that you got no action from her, whatsoever!  I mean, a) it’s a dream, so you shoulda’ been all over that regardless, but b) it’s the end of the freakin’ world!  Who the hell stares nuclear war in the face and then lets the girl get away?  That is an ultimate nookie scenario if there ever was one:  Baby, it’s you and me and the end of fucking everything, so let’s get down to some sweet, sweet lovin’.  You let that opportunity slip you by.  It’s like I don’t even know you anymore.”

“Goodbye, Dick.  It’s been revelatory, but I’m getting naked now.”

“Do it slowly.  For me.”

“Goodbye!”  I clicked off and shook my head again.  Talking with Richard may not have reconciled my two sets of memories, but at least now they no longer consumed me with confusion and horror.

How little I knew then, and how much I was to learn that night alone.

My First Time

Normal was yesterday.

The night my life and the world ended for the first time was supposed to have been a great night.  Or at least had the potential for greatness.  As I said yesterday, I had just been coasting along a routine of crushing mediocrity, working to pay for a life that failed to excite anyone, least of all me.  But not that night.

That night, I had a semi-blind date.  “Semi” in that we had met through a mutual friend’s Facebook posts.  I quipped on a pic, she commented, I “Liked” . . . kismet.  We knew what each other looked like, we knew the barest superficial details of one another’s lives, and what the other had seen had apparently been enough to entice me to ask and her to say “Yes.”

By pre-arrangement, I met Sophie Grant for drinks at the Lava Lamp, a fairly newish tapas-style restaurant/bar lit only by the hundreds of lava lamps lining the walls.  It looks cool, but that place is seriously bi-polar temperature-wise.  You’re either sweating next to a wall of heating elements or shivering in a torrent from the AC.  I imagine the exorbitant drink prices go straight to their electric bill.

Sophie looked quite fetching in the undulating glow of amorphous blobs, however.  She’s a pixie-ish, waif-like girl with above-the-shoulder auburn hair, a slightly up-turned nose, and hipstery black horn-rim glasses.  When she saw me holding a two-top table open against the masses of other trendy drinkers, she smiled, revealing a pair of delightful dimples in her cheeks.  She wore jeans and a billowy, translucent white blouse that revealed hints of a white bra beneath.  I was a fan.

We greeted one another for the first time by clasping hands and trading mutually nervous “Hi”‘s.  I tried — and she allowed me — to give her a quick peck on the cheek.  An aloof goth took our drink orders and gave us a chance to navigate those awkward just-meeting moments, parsing small talk and queries into an intricate dance that would either lead to more, or allow each of us a graceful opportunity to break free.

Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to go.

Instead of engaging in a linguistic tango, we were both interrupted by this wild-eyed asshole shoving his phone in our faces.  I knocked his hand aside, but he shoved it right back.  “Look, damn it!” he yelled.  I gave an apologetic smile to Sophie and looked as he asked.

He was showing off his Twitter app, so I nodded and said, “It’s very nice.  The one on my phone is exactly like it.”

He shook his head in disgust and careened to the next table, again shoving his phone into the faces of anyone who would make eye contact with him.  “Look!  Look, you idiots!” he screamed.  “It’s all over!  The ignorant sons of bitches finally did it!”

I grinned and turned to Sophie, about to make some lame joke about people and their phones, but she wasn’t paying me any attention.  Instead, she had pulled out her phone and was reading something, growing paler by the second.  “What is it?” I asked.  She didn’t respond, so I peeked over and saw her reading her Twitter feed, scrolling through #war.

I pulled out my own phone, but before I could bring up my own app, I saw the silenced device had blown up with alerts.  Growing up, we moved around a lot, so I stay connected to those locations with WeatherBug, and it was indeed connecting me.  Civil Defense alerts for New York, DC, Dallas, San Francisco, Orlando, Omaha, and Lahaina were sprouting every few seconds.  The gist seemed to be that everyone needed to get to shelter as soon as possible.

Specifically, fallout shelters.

Did those even still exist?  Was nuclear war still a thing?  I clicked onto my Twitter and saw what everyone else in the bar was increasingly engrossed in.  #War #IndiaChina #NorthKorea #Nuclear #AmericanResponse #WeAreFucked

#Armageddon

Apparently, the only thing outpacing the ICBMs, SLBMs, and IRBMs were the tweets and reports of the poor fools who saw them launching into the skies.  I mentally kicked myself for paying no attention to the news, for not tracking the political tensions half a world away, which the US had invariably involved itself in.  Then I realized it wouldn’t have mattered if I had.  #WeAreFucked was right, informed citizen or not.

The bar crowd around me swelled like an ocean wave as everyone suddenly had the same desire to get the hell out of there.  I looked to Sophie to grab her hand, to be the gallant hero type and lead her to safety, but that chick was already gone.  I don’t know if she panicked and fled, or if the crowd had interposed and drawn her away from me while I stood there, oblivious.  Either way, she was nowhere in sight and it was every Josh for himself.

There was a lot of pushing, shoving, stomping, and yelling, but eventually the pressure on all sides peaked, then became absent as a vacuum as we fell out through the door and upon the street.  People ran and screamed, either headed to their cars or just going, no destination in mind but where panic drove them.  I looked around again for Sophie to no avail.  I tried to remember if I had ever seen a civil defense sign or a fallout shelter ever before.  Where did folks go during a tornado?  Would it be under a city government building?  A high school?  Did I know any preppers?

My lack of disaster preparedness knowledge didn’t matter, though.  Someone screamed more shrilly than ever, before everything became silent.  We all looked up.  Above our heads, lights arced through the night sky, straight lines which would form curves only on a global scale.  Were they individual missiles or warheads?  MIRV’s?  Where was the vaunted missile shield and kinetic kill vehicles that always seemed to be 10 years away from deployment?

The sky lit with a flash that whited out everything, immediately preceding a sensation of heat and pressure that ended all sensation.  I had one last thought as I was vaporized.  “I was so looking forward to today, too.”

Before the Ends of the World

It wasn’t always like this.  I had a regular life before the world started ending each night.  (I guess you could say I maintain a normal-seeming life even now, but it’s only through practice, unfortunately.  Mediocrity as a coping mechanism for the fantastic, I suppose.)

Once upon a time, I was just your average dork in an office.  The Registrar’s Office, as a matter of fact, at a University which I will decline to identify here.  It’s bad enough I gave you all my real name.  I don’t need apocalypse-groupies hassling me at work.  (Is there such a thing?  Because that would kind of be awesome, a silver lining to the mushroom cloud, as it were.)

I grew up normally enough, did stupid shit as a teen, graduated and went to college, wasted soooo many opportunities for gainful employment on drinking and carousing and chasing skirts.  Skated by with a worthless BA in Administrative Affairs, faced crushing defeat and increasingly aggressive lienholders, until finally landing a job here.

Am I being vague?  I’m sorry.  I don’t mean to be.  It’s just that the normal stuff sort of pales when you hold it up against the nightly danse macabre I face these days.  I was a regular guy.  I’d root for the Patriots on Sunday and I was a good sort to crack open a beer with.  I was always too apathetic to ever pick a cause to stand behind, unless there was a girl who might be passionate about that particular windmill — and then I’d tilt with the best of them until she called me on my bullshit.  I made these great St. Louis style BBQ ribs, but even though I said they were my secret recipe, I actually stole ’em from Food Network (Alton Brown is a GOD).

I never blazed a trail.  I never wrote or inspired a sonnet.  I WAS YOU, and there’s absolutely no reason that either this should be happening to me, or I should start to go mad in exactly this fashion.

But one day it did, and at absolutely the worst possible time.  Because that’s when I met her.

Armageddon Tired of This

Hi!  My name is Josh Montgomery and I’ve seen the movie “Armageddon” four times.

You know the flick:  Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck?  A bunch of drill jockeys land on an asteroid the size of Texas and engage in various shenanigans as they drill down to blow it up and save the world?  Has that awful Celine Dion/Aerosmith song?  Terrible science and worse acting?  Infinitely inferior to “Deep Impact”?

Yeah, you know the movie, and I’ve seen it four times, which is honestly four times too many.  Why would I do this?  Why would anyone do that?  Well, I was looking for a sort of deeper meaning in it.  I know, I know, deeper meaning from the mind of Michael Bay, but I had my reasons.  For you see, I’ve watched “Armageddon” four times, but I’ve witnessed Armageddon — the real one — countless times.

I’m not jerking your chain.  I’ve been witness to the apocalypse, the actual end of all things, more times than I can count.  And I don’t mean the metaphorical my-world-has-just-ended.  I mean the END OF THE WORLD.  I die.  You die.  Everybody dies.  I don’t go to sleep at night.  I’m killed to sleep every night and cursed to wake up again the next morning, everyone but me none the wiser.  I don’t know why it’s happening, and I’ve got no proof it’s happening.  For all I know, I’m nuttier than Jiff.  But I have to face it head on, thus my writing this blog.  I’m hoping by recording it, by putting the word out there in some small way, I can figure everything out.  And if I can parse out the reasons behind it, maybe — if I’m lucky — I can finally stop it.