In the streets, some danced while others tossed Molotov cocktails. Some did both. As the world disintegrated into chaos, everyone assumed that they had two, maybe three days left to partake in either activity.
Coyle sat in the remnants of a dank bar, tracing his finger around the rim of a glass. The electricity still functioned most of the time, giving the lights and television the occasional sputtering flicker. In a back corner of the room, one man had just opened the gut of another man with a steak knife. Something about a card game, or a wager over darts. Coyle rarely paid attention to the mewling of dying men anymore.
Changing images on the television threw shadows on Coyle’s face. A pretty, unaffected woman in a sharp suit sat at desk, while below her, the text scrawl read: riots in Oakland escalate. This channel was one of only two or three still broadcasting, and he wondered why they bothered. It’s not as if anyone still watched the news, for information or hope or anything else. The whole of the earth was either fucking its collective brains out, waiting in line for one last confession, or ticking off other pointless items on the bucket list.
I never got to see Japan, they’d say. I never got to say goodbye to my father, they’d say. I never got to sleep with a supermodel, they’d say.
Coyle closed and rubbed his eyes, which ached from the omnipresent smoke that clouded the city streets. As he did, the image of his son’s face appeared again, for the thousandth time today. The look in the boy’s azure eyes… the fear transforming into flaccid acceptance. Coyle saw his hands grip his son’s throat. He witnessed that face redden and then fade as the life slipped away, his windpipe crinkling like an aluminum can under Coyle’s thumbs.
Those blue eyes staring back like looking in a mirror.
He pushed aside the glass, reached across the counter, and snatched a bottle of whiskey. Probably the last one in this bar. Last one in the city, for all he knew. The bartender had died in a meaningless argument with an axe-wielding man two days before, so this bar was self-serve now.
Someone tapped him on the shoulder. With a nod, Coyle acknowledged Brenner, a man he used to call friend. Not so easy to make those assumptions lately. Brenner’s face and hands were nearly black, covered with a mixture of dirt and soot.
“Hey, Coyle,” Brenner said, and tilted his head at the bottle. “I been up and down this street trying to find a drink. Can I trouble you to share that whiskey with me or are you going to finish it all alone?”
Four weeks ago, when three masked men had attacked and mugged Coyle in the park, one of them had a voice similar to Brenner’s, or maybe that was the paranoia creeping. Coyle considered cracking the bottle against Brenner’s face, but changed his mind and extended a hand instead. What did it matter anymore?
“Sure. Help yourself,” Coyle said, with no trace of sociability.
Brenner mumbled his thanks and sat down on the stool next to Coyle. He took a swig, wiped a grubby hand across his mouth, then passed it back. “How are you keeping yourself busy?”
A crowbar sailed into the room through an existing hole in the window. Neither of them turned around as it clattered to a stop beneath their feet. Coyle said, “I put my son down this morning.” The words hung in the air and then evaporated with the rest of the insanity of the end-times.
Brenner winced as he examined a gash on the back of his hand. “My wife, she jumped from our roof two weeks ago. Some hoods from the East Side had… done things to her…”
“You don’t have to tell me this,” Coyle said.
“What the fuck does it matter?”
Coyle took a long pull from the bottle then waved a hand to invite Brenner to continue.
“When she came home, she had blood coming down her legs. Just dribbling all over the carpet. That’s when she told me she was going to jump. At first, I tried to convince her that it was crazy, but after a minute, I just stopped and… let her go. What’s worth sticking around for, you know what I mean?”
“If it doesn’t matter, why didn’t you just follow her down?” Coyle said.
Brenner stared at the television for a few seconds before answering. “I have no idea. Maybe I want to see it, you know? See that thing coming towards us; see the sky go black and feel the heat and let it wash over me.”
“Whatever gets you through,” Coyle said.
The television changed to a split-screen, with the lady reporter on the left talking to a “man on the street” on the right. The man was standing in front of a group of rioters. The scrawl along the bottom read: Governor declares martial law in California. As the two of them spoke, a teenager wielding a baseball bat crept up behind the street reporter. He wound up– just like a major-leaguer– and swung at the poor bastard’s head, which sent a splat of blood at the camera lens. The kid swung the bat again at the camera, and the feed changed to static. The split screen returned to a singular view and the lady kept on blabbing as if nothing had happened.
“What are you still doing here?” said Brenner.
“I’m not here,” Coyle said. “I had one last job, and I ended that this morning when I laid him to rest. I’m going to finish getting drunk, and if I don’t get stabbed on the way home, I’m going to take my shotgun, stick it in my mouth, and pull the trigger.”
“Can I have it?”
“What’s that?” Coyle said.
“Your shotgun. When you’re done with it, I mean.”
Coyle thought about it. Couldn’t find a reason to say no. “Sure, I guess so. I’ll leave my front door unlocked.”
“Was it hard, killing your son? It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it. I’m just curious.”
Coyle pictured his son’s face, his eyes lolling back in his head as the death rattle escaped his lips. Coyle drained the rest of the whiskey. “I did what I had to do. It’s better this way.”
Brenner squinted at the television, then laid a filthy hand on top of Coyle’s hand and squeezed. Coyle nearly jumped in his seat, since he never thought he’d touch another human being again. Brenner’s eyes were transfixed on the television.
The words BREAKING NEWS flashed across the screen, lighting up the dim room. A few of the patrons stood up from the back tables and walked towards the TV set. The scrawl across the bottom read: Meteor hoax exposed. Swiss scientist to hold press conference 10 PM PST.
Brenner’s mouth dropped open. Coyle sat in silence for a moment, then looked around for the remote control. Unable to find it, he opted to shut off the TV with a heave of his bottle.
“Jesus Christ, do you know what this means?” Brenner said.
“Doesn’t mean anything,” Coyle said. “I’m leaving. Do you want that shotgun, or not?”