The Crying Sky

Jul 29, 2013 by     Comments Off on The Crying Sky    Posted under: Adam Drew This, Brian Wrote This, Fiction

Even at the end of the world, my brother is still an asshole. Fireballs scream down from a blood-red sky, and he can’t cut me a break. I shouldn’t even have to remind him that this is all his fault.

Even at the end of the world, my brother is still an asshole.

“Because it’s the end of the world,” Eric counters as we run across Webster Street, dodging fireballs. “This is compensating for sheer terror.”

This new arrangement, the mind-reading, will take some getting used to.

From a red sky, fist-sized balls of fire scream down—literally screaming, an apocalyptic rain of concentrated emotional pain. They have no mass, and the fire is metaphorical—when they hit, there’s no blast, no crater, nothing burns. Instead, they burst and splatter against whatever they hit. Against an inanimate object, they hasten decay, years mounting in seconds. Paint fades and flakes, cement cracks. Plate glass store windows shatter. Cars rust before your eyes. Every few minutes, you can hear the roof of a building collapse. But it’s what they do to people that’s the real problem.

“I’d say collapsing buildings is a real problem for the people in them,” my older brother says as we dash toward Broadway. We hug the sides of buildings as fireballs burst on the street.

“Stay out of my head,” I snap. There are bodies in the street—some of them dead, some merely sobbing uncontrollably.

“Not like either of us can control it,” he says. “Besides, it’s just surface thoughts. Deal with it.”

When I was a sophomore in high school, about a year after Eric vanished from our mother’s funeral, I hung out with his one-time best friend, Elliot Krupke. Like Eric, three years older than me. I made out with him in the back of that ’72 Duster he’d been “restoring” since he turned 16, and when he slipped his hand under my skirt, I didn’t stop him.

“Ew!” Eric yells, putting his hands uselessly to his ears. “Laura, stop!”

“Deal with it.”

A ball of fiery anguish bursts against a lamp post three feet from me. The splatter makes me sad—sadder—that this is the relationship I have with my only living family member, but it also turns the metal brown and brittle. The light overhead sputters out, and the post timbers toward us. I see none of this, but Eric does, which produces an unclear impression in my mind that I only understand later, after he yanks me by the shoulders out of the falling post’s path.

“We need shelter,” he says. “Something that won’t fall or cave in on us under fire.”

* * *

“This is all your fault.” I nearly spit the words as we run down the stairs into the pitch-black 19th Street BART station. We figure that it’ll take longer for the pelting blasts of psychic cancer to make a dozen feet of asphalt and cement collapse than it would for any of Oakland’s aging downtown buildings to crumble.

“There is no way this is my fault,” he says. “Like I should have known that dad’s death could destroy the world?”

We look around—there are people in the darkness, sheltering in couples and small, murmuring groups. Eyes lit by the occasional blue-white glow of a smartphone screen look up at us.

“You might have—if you’d been here,” I say more softly, and I know this is the wrong time to disgorge a dozen years’ resentment. Thanks to the decimated electrical grid, the only light is the red glow from up the steps, the flicker of emotional fireballs, their screams cut short by silent impacts.

* * *

I had inklings for years that my parents weren’t quite human, but it was only after mom died that dad started to reveal bits of the truth. But years before I tried to grasp what it meant to be a human incarnation of a higher-dimensional being, I just knew there was something unmistakably epic about them. My mother was a literal personification of joy and love. Rainy days made her happy. Sunshine made her happy. She had to touch everything and everyone. When I was thirteen and someone described to me what ecstasy does to you, I actually wondered if my mother were on some kind of extended prescription high.

Our father, by contrast, was icy and distant, like far-off mountains so high the snow never melts. He valued reason over all things, and seemed constantly in contempt of everything in our world. Fashion, music, TV, politics, religion—it all sucked, as a direct consequence of human frailty. “There’s so much more,” he would whisper, frustrated. We were a disappointment to him, all 6 billion of us.

In the last years, he’d answer small questions, or describe possibilities like they were sci-fi film plots. I understood that from a higher reality, they’d poured themselves into our reality, into matter and time and intensity, as a lark. A quick adventure. “It seems so much longer here,” he would say.

Nothing like this, the emotional storm hit when my mother died. My father barely revealed a tear, and it was the internal battles between him and Eric that generated sparks, until Eric left us. My father must have quietly mitigated the existential consequences when my mother died and whatever had come down to us was released. “You’ll have to hold it together,” he said to me two days before his stroke. Now I see what he meant. But he died, and I wasn’t strong enough to deal with the anger and grief and disappointment he left behind. And Eric was still gone—he had no idea how to face this. But he knew our dad had died. Something woke up in his head, just like it did in mine, and drew him back as the red clouds gathered in the sky.

* * *

“It makes no sense.” Eric paces at the foot of the stairs and frozen escalator. No one else wants to be this close to the bursting fireballs. “They were, what, cosmic tourists?”

“I can’t explain it to you,” I reply. “I can’t even imagine what an extra dimension would look like—something between height and width? A different kind of depth? A direction of time different than forward?” I don’t know. But they were bigger than all this, and they chose to come down here to see what it’s like.”

“I read one of those pop-physics books that explained the idea of spacetime as a big … loaf. Like the whole universe, all time, could be seen as a solid, simultaneously existent object if you could view it from the outside.”

“Which is where mom and dad came from.” I’m nodding, relieved he’s finally contributing. This new psychic thing is actually making our conversation move faster, communicating unfiltered ideas faster than our words can represent them. When we forget to be resentful and snarky at each other. “When Dad had his stroke, it sort of triggered something in us—like a power within him was passed to us. Which is what lets me ‘hear’ your jerky opinions about my haircut while I’m trying to talk to you about life-and-death matters!”

“You said he never regained consciousness,” Eric says. “Even if I had gotten here before he died, what good would it have done?”

“If you hadn’t turned your back on us at all, we could have both learned from him,” I say. “Together, we could have been prepared for what would happen when this day came.”

Eric walks over to the foot of the stairs, which flare with the impact of a wailing ball of my father’s cosmic angst. He looks up at an evening sky shading to the color of dried blood, and swears under his breath. It’s a Mandarin word I’ve never heard before, but simultaneously the concept, wordless, comes to me from his head. Classy. At least travel broadened his horizons.

* * *

“Extra-dimensional storm of pure, overwhelming emotional energy,” Eric says. “You still haven’t said what we’re supposed to do about it.”

“I’m not sure,” I admit. “Dad was starting to tell me things, in the last couple years, but you know how he could be.”

“Distant,” Eric says. “Himalayan.”

“Yeah.” I walk over and rest a hand on the black rail of the dead escalator. When the clouds broke this morning and the hail of fire started, I saw people struck dead-on with the energy balls fall dead. Others killed themselves in sudden despair. A mother turned from her baby stroller and throw herself in front of a bus on Grand Avenue. I have been vomiting and shaking and crying for hours. “Dad knew that neither of us would be able to handle what he held inside—we’re too human, a generation removed from their essence.”

“So we can’t capture and contain the stuff like he did.”

“Not alone,” I repeat. “But that’s why this bond has been created, this psychic thing—it’s how we get through this. If we … put our minds together, literally, we can do it.”

“How?”

I reach out and touch his wrist, skin-on-skin. The darkened subway station disappears around me, time itself falling away. I simultaneously feel bigger than the city (the firestorm seems like shards of broken glass that we’ll just have to sweep up) and apart from it, in a world that is just me and Eric. I see my brother’s life, a lost decade unfolding. I see a girl in Hong Kong, a village in India. A fistfight in Milan that he loses, and one in Chicago that he wins. I see him looking at me, seeing my life in the same cascade of impressions, and I see him seeing me see him. We both recoil in mirrored shock and embarrassment.

“Jesus, Laura, what was that?”

“What happens when we let down our barriers.” The contact combines our powers, gives us the strength to deal with this. I sigh and feel a wry grin tug at the corner of my mouth. On my father, this rare expression communicated resigned bemusement. On my mother, it bestowed forgiveness, an indulgent embrace. On my brother, it’s a wall. On me, I hope, it’s a beginning.

He shrugs and looks away. We do what we have to, to make sense of the world again. We hold each other in the darkness.

 

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