An Ordinary Conclusion

Jamie Hood

The autumn wind playfully tousled Gwen's hair. She stood idly on a street corner, watching others window shop. Some called it voyeurism. She preferred the term 'observer'. But on such an autumn day, when the year began to unravel and close into itself in preparation for the coming winter, oddities occurred more often than usual. On this particular fall afternoon, in fair weather and a heavy crowd, something odd happened to Gwen.

"The world is coming to an end! It's the Armageddon! And it's all Mrs. West's fault!" an elderly man in what appeared to be a loincloth spat at her. She shrunk back from him, but he only inched forward with each of her steps back. "Can't you see? The world is ending! What are you doing out here?" He shook a silver bell and held a poster proclaiming what he had just told her. "The world faces utter doom! Three-Fifteen! Three-fifteen!" he shouted to others as he walked off.

Gwen began to walk in the direction of her house, and tried desperately to shake off the old man's appearance. She could understand such a happening in New York, perhaps, but certainly not in the mediocre Massachusetts city she inhabited. She reached her home in a relatively short time, considering she was next to trembling from the scare she had. She slammed the door behind her in a semblance of self-defense.

"Mom!" she screamed throughout the seemingly empty house, "I'm home! You won't believe what just happened to me!" She threw her backpack next to the kitchen table and poured a tall glass of soda. She collapsed into a chair at the table and awaited her mother's reply. None came. "MOM!" she cried at the maximum capacity of her shrill voice.

Nothing.

"What the hell?" she muttered and began searching the house. "Mother! Where are you?" Still no reply. She searched the bathroom, her mom's bedroom, her own bedroom, everything, save her sister's room. But there was no reason her mother would be in there. Against her better judgment, she shoved the door open and discovered what it was she searched for. Her mother lay limp on the bed, the television blaring before her. It was a newscast, clearly.

A mannish white woman held a microphone to her mouth in front of a burning building. "Sources tell our network that the cause is most likely arson. The fire occurred at three-fifteen this afternoon on the corner of West and Birch. The building belonged to an alleged psychic reader, who was killed in the flames almost immediately," the woman was obviously reading off of cue cards and took a moment before continuing. "In other news, the Armageddon is making its way towards Earth at this very moment. We will all be dead by tomorrow, say government officials." She remained stoic, and Gwen waited for some sort of reaction from the woman. "Stock is down by 37 points as of Monday…" Gwen took the remote and turned the damned thing off. She found herself trembling again.

She turned around, suddenly recalling that her mother was lying behind her, unconscious. She prodded her gently, "Mom? Wake up," she poked. Her mother didn't respond. She pushed harder, "Mom?" Nothing. She shook the older woman violently, "MOM!" and at this, her mother awakened.

"What is it, honey? What's the emergency?" she asked as she sat up. She wiped groggy eyes and brushed flyaway strands of midnight hair from her face.

Gwen glared back at her, "Mom, I had to search the entire house for you. And then when I got here, you were laying on Sissy's bed asleep. I couldn't get you to wake up. I thought you were dead or something." She tried claming herself by taking a deep breath. "Now what's going on?"

"Oh, dear, you worry too much. You've always been the anxious one in our family," her mother said lightly, "I must've been putting away laundry or some other accursed household chore. I suppose I sat to watch the news and fell asleep by accident. It was nothing. Just a little catnap, you know? I'm getting to be an old woman, and I don't have as much energy as I used to."

Gwen giggled and weakly slapped her mother's arm. "Oh stop. You're barely forty. You just work too hard," she told her and sat back, "So what's for dinner?"

Her mother searched the ceiling, "Oh, I don't know…just your favorite! Meat loaf!" her mother kidded.

"Dear god, mother, say it ain't so," Gwen sighed and stood up.

"No, I'm kidding. I'm the only one in this house that likes it. I'm probably just going to throw some macaroni on and fry up some chicken legs." She stood too and began exiting the room. "How does that sound?"

"Awesome, you want any help?" she asked in reply and followed her mother down to the kitchen.

Gwen stirred the mac as her mother set the table; for two. "Oh, won't Sissy be here for dinner?" Her mother shook her head. "Oh," Gwen said and then remembered the earlier abnormal happenings. "Oh, you won't believe what happened on the way home from school today!"

"What?" her mother asked, placing plates upon the immaculate table.

"I was walking home and some half-naked old man walked up to me screaming about the Armageddon!" Her mother stared at her doubtfully, with one eyebrow raised to push her point. "No, I'm serious! He was swinging a bell and he had a poster and kept screaming three-fifteen. I was pretty shook up, but I'm okay now."

Her mother looked towards her disapprovingly. "You see, Gwendolyn Marie, I told you it wasn't safe to be walking home. This may be a pretty small place, but there are still wackos out there. Maybe you should start taking the bus, until you can drive, of course."

Gwen huffed, "Mother, I'm fifteen, and I'll be sixteen in another month! I'm a big girl. I can handle myself."

"No, no you can't. What if some two hundred pound man corners you as you're innocently making your way through an alley? Do you think your twig thin body can fight him off?" Gwen huffed once more. "I'm serious, Gwen. A rape happens to a woman every nine minutes. It takes you nearly twenty minutes to get home. Do the math. That gives some pervert out there two chances to take advantage of you."

Gwen rolled her eyes, "Look, Mom, I can handle myself. If something happens, it'll be my responsibility." At that, her mother reluctantly acquiesced. "Now, the macaroni is done. Why don't we just sit down and eat? I'm starving."

Gwen's mother agreed, rubbing at her widening stomach. "Will you get the butter out? The sky is falling, you know. It'll be the death of us." Her mother paused, looking quite dazed, but quickly reclaimed herself. "Butter will make those rolls in the oven absolutely superb."

"What did you just say?" Gwen questioned with squinty eyes.

"What do you mean?" her mother asked in confusion. "I asked you to get butter out for the rolls. They'll simply melt in your mouth."

Gwen relaxed along her bed with the phone propped tightly against her ear. Her friend, Danielle was on the other end of it. "And I can't believe I failed that stupid biology test!" she whined, "I thought it was so easy. You know how slack the teacher is."

"Yeah," Gwen concurred, paying more attention to her nails than her friend's endless droning. But it was her duty to listen, after all, so she pretended well.

"Oh, and guess what?"

"What?" Gwen unenthusiastically inquired.

"I think Stephan likes me!" she cried out in utter teenage joy. Her bubbly laugh grated Gwen's nerves, but she was in an odd mood that day, so she dismissed it for the time being. "So what do you think about it?" Danielle interrogated her. Her voice was laced with naïve girlish hope, but Gwen hadn't a care for her at the moment, so she replied, simply:

"Why do you think he likes you?"

Danielle thought for a few seconds and then went on, "Well, duh! Because he gave me eye contact for, like, ten seconds! No guy holds eyes with you for no reason. It's, like, some proven law. I read it in my latest issue of Cosmo. Plus, I took that "Does He Like You?" quiz thing. Four out of five statistics point to yes."

Gwen hated herself for being a bitch, but replied coldly, "Well, maybe you had snot hanging out of your nose or something. Eye contact doesn't prove shit. I make eye contact with my perverted thirty year old gym teacher, but that doesn't mean he'll be getting some from me."

"Oh," said Danielle, more than disheartened.

Gwen snapped back to, "Oh, hon, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have said that. It was horrible. I'm sure he likes you. You're an awesome girl. Any guy who doesn't like you is crazy!" she paused, "Or gay," she added as an afterthought.

"Yeah, thanks for the encouragement. Look, I've got to go. I have…uh…homework or some other inane chore in my life. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Okay," Gwen replied.

"Wait, I'll see you until three-fifteen tomorrow. The sky is falling, after all. Bye." She hung up and only the dial tone remained.

Gwen went to bed with a tense heart, but thought that she would be better the following day. Before she went to bed, she threw on the news again. The same newscast, minus the Armageddon spiel. The psychic's name was Mrs. West. Now where had she heard the before?

Gwen was wrong. Nothing was better the following day. At precisely three-fifteen, the proverbial sky fell. The world ceased to exist. If only Gwen had paid better attention to the signs.