The day was warm and we walked, hand in hand, Kyra on my right, marveling at the window displays as we passed them; her mom, Kate, on my left. The park was down the road from us and Kyra carried a bag of breadcrumbs for the pigeons and squirrels. Still young and excitable, my daughter pointed out various clothes and articles in the window displays and asked to go in some of the stores as we passed them. Her mom smiled and pulled her into a boutique. I stayed outside.
I crossed the street to where an ice cream vendor jingled a small bell on his cart and yelled about his fresh, hand churned frosted delights.
“What’ll yah have, mister?” he asked in as charming a tone as his rustic voice allowed him. He was short and squat and had a head full of scraggly brown hair. His face was chubby and he was clean shaven. I thought the smooth face didn’t fit the rest of his rough exterior.
An old, worn poster board beside the cart held a wide variety of ice creams. As I tried to narrow down my selection, he rang his bell and yelled for folks to give his treats a try.
“Can I get three single scoops of chocolate in cups?” I asked.
“Yah want three scoops in one cup?”
“No, sir. I want three cups with one scoop in each of them.”
He said nothing but gave a quick nod. As he leaned into his cart with a metal ice cream scoop the day took on a dusk feel, though it was barely eleven in the morning. I looked up. An odd sky hung above us, its blues traded for grays; its white clouds shifted into a hue of yellow. If the clouds would have been green I might have reacted quicker believing a tornado would be on us soon. But they were yellow, and an odd shade, almost deep enough to be a mustard color.
The ice cream man mumbled something. He held the scooper in one hand and a bowl in the other. On the ground by his foot lay a scoop of chocolate ice cream.
“That’s not right,” he said. But he wasn’t looking at the ice cream on the ground at his feet. He looked up at the sky. His mouth hung open and scooping out ice cream seemed to be the last thing on his mind.
“It’s the end of the world,” one man yelled. I didn’t know if he meant the dropped ice cream or the yellowed clouds above me. When I looked at him, it became obvious. He was older than me by a good fifteen years. His hair gray on the sides and still somewhat dark on top. He had a spotty beard that was full at the sideburns and chin, but sparse along his jawline. His red shirt looked too tight and his shorts seemed too loose. He pointed to the sky with one shaking hand.
I guess that’s when people panicked. They hurried inside stores, fearful of a storm that was certainly brewing, leaving many of us still outside; still craning our necks to the unusual heavens. It didn’t look like a coming storm at all.
I looked to the boutique, but didn’t see Kate or Kyra. I didn’t think they knew what was going on outside. I started to go inside and find them; hurry them along. As I walked toward the boutique I looked up again.
Soft purple rays of sunlight filtered through tiny breaks in the clouds. They sparkled like glitter as they cut through the thickening air. The beams shot through as if spotlights were switched on one at a time. Still, I looked on.
I’m not sure when the screams began, but I knew why they had. People began floating upwards within the rays of the sun. They struggled and screamed and begged for help but what could we do? In seconds they were gone, so many of them all at once, disappearing into the clouds, their cries muffled, then falling silent.
Murmurs ran through those of us still watching, even as others ran for shelter. It was an eerie moment. I looked from the sky to the buildings then back to the sky. More folks were sucked into the purple rays only to vanish seconds later. The thought of running into a building didn’t strike me as the safest thing. Standing outside also didn’t appeal to me, but at least I could run if I stayed outside. I looked to the boutique. My ladies stood at the glass. Like everyone else they looked to the sky.
The temperature dropped a few degrees, growing cool as I watched on. The flesh on my arms swam with chill bumps. A slight wind picked up and the clouds moved closer to us. The hair on my head blew with the breeze. Other people headed inside, their whispers of fear carried away on the wind, never to touch my ears.
My breath came out in a fine mist of white.
Electricity filled the air and the hairs on my head and arms stood on end. My teeth vibrated. Others seemed to have the same issue. Brilliant shoots of green lightning streaked through the clouds. A low rumble followed and within seconds, the world shook with each bolt, with each thunderclap. It may not have looked like a storm was brewing, but one had arrived.
I ducked, my hands went over my head, and I ran for the boutique. I reached the door and stopped. It looked too crowded in there. I motioned for Kate to come outside using two fingers as if they were walking. I pointed away from the storm. Kate shook her head and pointed to the sky. Her eyes were big and worried.
Others took to the indoors, leaving only a handful of us to continue without the safety of the modern world’s structures.
From the yellowed clouds fell what looked like red snow. I put a hand out as it dropped all around me, getting on my clothes and skin and hair; sticking to the ground and soon to cover the world in red. The flakes splatter on my palm. It was rain, not snow. I looked around. Others were doing the same thing, holding their hands out and looking at the red drops of rain. As I stared on, the rain grew harder, soaking us. Red ran down the faces of those of us unlucky enough to still be outside.
Mixed with the red are other colors, mostly tans and brown. These looked more like snowflakes and I pluck one of the larger pieces off my shirt. I held it in my open palm and stared at it until the wind picked it up and carried it off. Seconds later another one landed on me, then flitted away, fluttering in the increasing breeze.
“This is—” I started.
“Skin!” Someone else finished. The woman held a piece a few inches wide. She dropped it to the ground as if a bug had crawled up her arm. She shook and jittered, then ran for one of the many stores nearby. But she couldn’t get inside—they were all too crowded, much like the boutique Kate and Kyra were in.
The few remaining sky watchers did the same, bolting toward buildings, their screams of the sky raining blood and snowing skin barely audible over the rumble of thunder and the howl of the wind.
My hair whipped about my face and I stumbled forward, barely able to hold my ground against the onslaught of the growing windstorm. I peeled a piece of skin off my face, stared at it, then let it go. The growing blizzard of blood and skin picked up. The ground was covered in red. The skin dust blanketed the tops of cars and buildings and benches that lined the street.
I wondered if this was some type of celestial joke, the world being washed in blood and skin. Then I realized the one man was right. It was the end of the world and we were all going to face it.
Fear seized my heart and my soul screamed for me to run. Panic welled up in me and my muscles twitched with adrenaline. As the world fell before me I knew there was no chance to escape the wrath of Mother Nature or Father Time or a Deity in the heavens we have angered by standing pat and not fleeing the situation. I headed for the boutique, my heart thumping, my skin freezing and the remains of those lifted to the sky earlier falling down around me, on me.
I tapped on the glass. Kate s stared at me, her eyes full of fear. She mouthed something and motioned for me to get inside. I shook my head and point up the road. I yelled that the store is too packed for me and for us to run.
The buildings in the distance began to crumble as the clouds turned from yellow to purple and beyond that, black. They shook on their foundations. One after another, they fell to the ground, taking with them those who sought shelter, who thought sanctity was within the walls that we had built. People, many of which appeared to be dead, rose into the sky, pulled along by the beams still poking through the clouds.
The storm grew heavier. People ran from the coming rage and collapsing buildings. Beyond them the world was dying as electricity danced along the wires. Water and sewage shot from hydrants and manholes and into the air and soaking the world with sludge that mixed with the blood and skin of the dead.
Those who saw buildings collapse ran from the structures they had hid in. Some of them were sucked into the light, their screams echoed in the beams, their eyes wide, and their hands and legs flailing weightlessly, until they disappeared into the clouds and the blizzard became increasingly violent. I stumbled backward with a strong gust of wind. The blood was at my ankles and rising. The frigid air enveloped me and my once white plumes of breath were tinted pink.
Flakes of thick skin pelted down like ice from the sky. Bits of bone splash in the blood and on the hard surfaces of cars.
“Kate! Kyra, come on!” They were trapped in the mass of terrified people. I grabbed the door and yanked on it. Someone yelled for me to close it, but it wouldn’t shut. The wind pulled it from its hinges and it smashed against the wall of the next store. Glass shattered and the aluminum frame bent and snapped off. They became like spears and the wind tossed them about and cut through several people as they ran, splitting them in half.
Not far from me were the beams of light from a sun I will never see again. Somehow the rays penetrated the clouds. A luminous shaft of light struck down in front of me. To my left the buildings shuttered before collapsing and the people who managed to escape were rising into the air.
To my right people pushed their way out of the boutique. The window cracked, then shattered. Several people fell through the hole and lay dead or dying on the ground as others trampled them. I saw my girls running. Kyra dropped her bag of crumbled bread.
“Run!” It’s all I could say as the beams of light raced for them. I tried to catch up to them, but they were lifted in the air. I heard Kyra’s screams. Kate looked down, her hands outstretched and her eyes begging me to help them.
“Kate!” I yell as they rose higher and higher into the sky. “Kyra!”
They were gone.
I dropped to my knees and the sting of icy tears burned my eyes. I cried out and yelled at the top of my lungs. My heart cracked, then broke in half. I shivered as I sat there in a puddle made of dead people. More flecks of skin and hail made of bone pelted down on me. I caught a piece of light-colored skin stared at it, wondering if it belonged to my little Kyra.
Moments earlier, I wanted to run, to escape the catastrophe before me though I knew it was probably futile. But without my girls I can’t bring myself to flee. Instead, I stand and face the ray moving toward me.
The light is brilliant. It will engulf me with its soft purple aura and I will leave the ground. Weightlessness will probably fill me. The world cracks and crumbles around me. There is darkness behind the storm and there is nothing from where it came. A cosmic void awaits what’s left of the world.
I look to the intense clouds. The lightning streaks and thunder shakes the world. The ray is on top of me. I close my eyes and hope for a quick death.
This is one of those stories where I had a title pop into my head and the story followed after. The original version was significantly shorter and poorly written and not thought out that well. This version, though quick with a horrific ending, I wanted to leave open ended. In my head (and yours too after reading this, if you got to this point) I could see the narrator surviving with the end of the world fizzling out before it actually sucked him up and spat him out in the form of blood, skin and fragmented bone particles. The torment in such a scenario would be horrific in and of itself.
I hope you enjoyed Flecks of Dead Skin on a Landscape of Red. If you did, do you mind sharing this post on your social media or telling your friends to come on over to Type AJ Negative and read a few of my stories? I appreciate it more than you will know.