The day the Earth kept moving

The comet had been coming for years. Decades probably. But only when it became noticeable in the sky, people started to worry. Because just weeks before that moment astronomists caught up to the fact that the comet might not pass Earth but, in theory, could actually hit it.
When the fear of Earth potentially getting hit by a piece of space-rock was brought up at first, it didn’t mean much to most people. It took a while to settle in the general minds of the masses. And when it did it caused the rise of two groups: Doomsday tin foil had groups, and deniers. Both were equally aggressive in their quest to convince others of their believe. You saw the mon every street corner, yelling at people passing by. Spreading pamphlets, trying to convince people of their righteousness as if they were trying to convert you to a new religion.
This phase passed mostly in a week or two. The street corners emptied, leaving space for people to move around in the city once again. The screaming people, except for some very stubborn members, returned to their normal lives. And maybe life was normal for those stubborn believers as well. Maybe they had always been into their screaming and preaching ways, and this was just a new thing to show it.
So the street corners became quiet again because people were content with their heads stuck in the sand, like some cartoon ostrich. So of course, this as the exact moment politicians had to say something about it.
That was when the madness started.

If I had thought the street preachers could scream, I had never seen a politician truly driven by fear. Maybe it was the idea that their power was all but gone, or maybe they truly worried about the people. I might never know. All you saw on tv were authority-figures screaming at each other, blaming each other, and coming up with more crazy plans as well as divisions between nations and people. So borders closed. Trade was boycotted. Rumours flew around that the comet would only destroy part of the world. The other part, which part that was exactly depended on who aired the news, would survive and even flourish for cosmic soil would be very nutritious. It was a crazy time. I heard plans of launching nuclear missiles at the comet. Or how all humanity would start living underground in a worldwide network of bunkers. If the comet were to land in an ocean, dykes needed to be raised as high as skyscrapers to survive the tidal waves. Another theory was that it wasn’t a comet at all but some space weapon from the Russians/Americans/North Koreans/or any other country depending on the origin of the news. Everything passed through hands, ears and minds as theories roamed free in newfound space.

Eventually this all settled down and died silently as well, as the world came to realise there was little we could do. Not even little, there was nothing we could do except hope and pray. And so the world was divided once more. There were those who partied all day and night, who quit their jobs and flew through bucket-lists and all things once forbidden. There were the people who prepped for the end, either by building bunkers in the hope to survive or by praying for their immortal soul. And there were the people who continued life as usual. Not necessarily because they denied reality, but simply because this was how the dealt best with that reality. I belonged to the last group. Many of my friends belonged to the first, and not all of them respected people who made other choices. I guess the world has to come to an end to discover who your true chosen family is.

So what happened next? I’m writing this text so nothing must’ve happened, you might argue. And you’d be correct and yet also incorrect. Because something did happen, but no one knows exactly what or at least not exactly. What we do know is that the moon saved us.
As the comet came closer to Earth every second, the moon remained unbothered by it and moved in its usual orbit. Until it aligned with the comet. Just enough for the two to run into each other. It left a monstrous crater in the moon and launched part of the cosmic rock outside of the Earth’s orbit, but it also ricocheted the comet out of its original trajectory. Trapping it in Earth’s orbit and bound by its gravity until it launched itself out of it again. But in those weeks it did unmeasurable damage.

—-

You will never see anyone run as hard as when the airhorns sound. They were used for one purpose only: to alarm everyone the comet was passing by and you needed to get inside before it did. Looking outside I see the streets empty in mere seconds. It had happened last week, during the fourth passing of the comet, that people rang my doorbell. Begging to be let in and hide out the passing. Strangers or not, it was what you did. If not you’d be condemning them to death. Not today though, it seems the doorbell stays silent. People found other hiding places.
Slowly the sirens become quiet. As does this part of the world as it cowers for the coming minutes. Slowly the night sky starts to change. From the black-brown mix from a well-lit city at the brink of sleep, to the blue of old LED-lighting. The comet passing by, its long tail dragging behind it and setting the world aflame. That dangerous tail, releasing cosmic particles into the Earth’s atmosphere from where it dwindled down to the soil that it had just passed over. It is the scream that draws my attention away from the sky. A sound of pure agony and pain. My gaze flies over the streets, scared to see what was happening. Across the little canal in front of my house someone has fallen to the ground. A human being covered in cosmic dust. I feel my stomach churn, knowing what is about to happen but I can’t look away. Sometimes you have a couple of days, maybe weeks before the radiation makes you change. The longest recorded change took six months. Six months of agony and what I can only imagine would be an unbearable amount of pain. The person across the water is lucky not to go through that. The change is almost instantaneous.
What was once a woman dressed in a blue sundress who carried a backpack, becomes something completely different right before my eyes. At first I see the burns on her skin, left by the dust. Glowing like hot charcoals in a summer barbecue. Almost elegant scribblings, symbols left by that awful celestial body that torments the planet. Until it burns through, melting into your body. Ever since the first changes, since the comet got stuck in Earth’s gravity, there have been videos warning people about the dust. How it would kill you. Nobody believed it at first, many didn’t believe it for a while and some still refuse to believe it and dive into conspiracy theories. The rest of us now know the radiation doesn’t kill you, that would’ve been kinder. As I watch I see the burns, those glowing read marks, crawl over the woman’s skin like snakes. As if they’re alive. I can practically hear them being seared into her flesh as she screams in pain and agony until her voice fails her and she just lies on the ground. Collapsed, panting, tears running down her face. It’s too dark to see her eyes, until those turn red as well. I still can’t look away. I’ve only seen changes on tv, shot with smartphone camera’s and always shaky. I can’t look away as my brain registers this woman’s final moments. I don’t film it.

As her eyes turn glowing red, like small stars in the colour of the setting sun, her skin starts turning to stone. Ashen grey, black, cracked along the lines made by the red scribbles. Her dress rips, her voice returns but it isn’t hers anymore as it roars like a primal creature that went extinct long before mankind’s time on Earth. And she isn’t done. Panic builds up in the back of my throat as I dive down, barely brave enough to peek over the windowsill. You should never attract a creature’s attention, as they attack everything with a heartbeat. And mine is racing a mile a minute. No matter what size and shape you used to be, when you turn into a creature everyone turns into a three meter tall, stone-looking colossus. Some have horns, some a tail, some still look sort off human in features. And all will crush you given the chance. The military have decided that an anti-tank grenade is the best way to stop a creature, permanently. You can only imagine how much money the weapons industry has made since this discovery. The only other weakness of creatures seems to be the fact that they are not a particular fan of water, so I’m grateful of that little canal tonight.
As the creature bellows again I duck down completely. Soon I will hear the sirens of the Anti Creature Unit, the sound of gunfire and an explosion. It might be followed by a building coming down, and be accompanied by the sound of a flying and crashing car. It will all be over soon, I keep repeating to myself as I close my eyes to stop the tears. I want to say I’m crying because I mourn the unknown woman-now-creature, but the reality is that I’m scared to death. The sirens and stress takes a toll on everyone. The “where is the comet” app has been the most downloaded app for weeks, and people pop it up in the middle of the most random moments. Just to check if they’re going to be save for another while. It’s a toxic situation.
And the weirdest thing is that two hours later life will be back to normal, as my phone buzzes. A party friend, asking if I want to tag along.
“Not tonight. I just saw a change.” I text back.
“Wicked!”
Some of my friends are insane.

—-

“How are you not excited that you saw a change and lived to tell the tale?”
All eyes focus on me. Seven pairs that make me extremely uncomfortable. Three months ago I told three of those pairs that I wasn’t going for a drink because of a phenomenon that still haunts me in my dreams. And that causes absolute terror in my nightmares. My friends want to hear the gory details, even though there are video’s online that show just as much. Even though I don’t want to partake in the gore fest. Sipping my lukewarm beer I avoid their eyes.
“I really don’t want to talk about it.” My voice is harsher than I intended, but maybe it’s good. Finally they back off. Eric lifts his big, blunt hands in defence. His green eyes show that he’s unhappy that I’m not answering his questions, but I don’t care. He doesn’t have to deal with the memory, none of them do. I envy them for it as I down the last sip of my dead beer and turn away towards the bar.
“That shocking, huh?”
No matter the noise, her voice rings clear. I sight, signal the bartender to order another round of beers and don’t look at her.
“Still don’t want to talk about it,” I repeat myself.
“Are you sleeping at all? You look pale.” Her concern is almost touchable. And unlike the others, it is genuine. It forces me to turn around to look at her. Her soft grey eyes always look as if there are storm clouds wandering in her head. Ready for the thunder of her temper. Her black hair is the tornado that comes with it, her raving personality the eye in the storm. A small smile finds its way around my mouth.
“I’m always pale. I’m half-vampire, remember? It’s why I love Bloody Mary’s.” Last time I drank one of those was at her birthday party and it made me vomit so badly that I haven’t touched it since. She laughs.
“Yeah right. That’s why you know so much about history. You’ve lived through it all. But I’m being serious, how are you sleeping?”
For a moment, there is a pause. A long one. I look at the bartender, at the bar. The long, dark, wooden bar that’s covered in puddles and filled with the arms of people waiting for their drinks. Five tall glasses are being put in front of me. The overhead lighting is so bad, I can barely see if the glasses are actually full.
“That bad?” she asks. I just nod as I take two glasses and she takes the other three.
“I can’t forget about it,” I say, confiding in her. “It looked so painful. I saw her being ripped apart by the dust, lose herself. Until they shot her down. How do I forget about that?” I know how my eyes look at her. Pleading, begging for an answer on how to forget what I saw. Because what I saw belonged straight in a horror movie, which I never liked anyway.
“I don’t know,” she says, so silently I can barely hear her. The words are so devastating, all I can do is look at her.
“That’s what I thought,” I say in a cold, bitter tone. Words as heart-breaking as hers were. I don’t want to hurt her. She’s the last person on the planet that I’d want to hurt, but this time I have to. Because maybe, just maybe she’ll stop the others from asking their stupid questions. She lingers two steps behind me as we walk back with the drinks. I don’t turn around to comfort her, knowing that as soon as I see those hurt, sad, gorgeous eyes I’ll cave and start apologizing. Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow but not tonight. I put the glasses on the table and immediately take a sip of my own beer. She turns towards the dance floor to bring the other three towards the rest of the group. I look at her back for a while.
“So, when are you going to tell her how you feel?” Eric pokes with an elbow, causing me to almost spill my drink. Angered, I look up at him. He was annoying with the statement that I should be excited about seeing someone change, now he’s simply putting his nose in businesses that simply aren’t his.
“Eric, she’s one of my best friends. Not all lesbians fall for each other,” I snide back.
“Yeah but you two just vibe right,” he snickers. This boy is causing drama for nothing.
“Which is why we’re such good friends. Now back off!” It’s not the first time people assumed we’re a couple or that we’d be good together, but it is the first time it annoys me. Eric knows better, he’s being a prick on purpose. And while his party-life is tedious but fine, this behaviour is something I won’t tolerate.
“What’s going on guys?” Of course now she pops up. Of course. Unknowingly she stares at us. I sigh, shooting one more look to Eric.
“Nothing,” I say. “Let’s dance.” And finally have some fun. We can all use it.

“What was going on between Eric and you tonight?”
Why can’t anyone let anything go anymore? Is this an odd side effect of the comet? Because if this sticks around I might just move to another country. Or planet. However, there is no way to get away from the question without being downright mean. She an I are the only ones in the dark, empty street. It’s way pas midnight as we walk to her home. The only light is coming from the street lights and the moon. It is a peaceful night, with no sound aside from our shoes on the pavement. A silence that’s shattered by my sigh as I shove my hands inside the pockets of my jacket.
“He was yammering on about us being a good couple again,” I grumble, knowing she’s going to laugh. Which she does, destroying the silence even more.
“He really has a little obsession with that, hasn’t he?” she snickers. I shoot her a look, but can’t help that a small smirk appears on my face.
“You’re no help at all, are you?” I nudge her with my shoulder, she grins wide and shakes her head.
“Nope,” she cheers, smiling wide at me. “We would be an amazing couple after all.”
She manages, she always manages to make me laugh. Coaxing the sound from my lips with that gorgeous smile of her.
“You ass,” I manage to say, with a completely insincere tone. Her grin doesn’t diminish for even a second as she hooks her arm into mine. It’s a familiarity I’ve come to know well over the last couple years and which I wouldn’t give up for anything in the world. I wouldn’t give her up for anything in the world, no matter what people think or say about us.
“What time is it?” Her voice is a bit quieter than before, the night is getting to us and our energy-levels.
“Somewhere around 4 in the morning I guess. Why?” I ask wit ha slight frown. I feel her arm pressed up against mine. It’s a chilly night, our jackets are a slight bit thin for being outside.
“It’s getting light already,” she says.
My frown deepens as I look up at the sky, to the place where her gaze is focused on. She is right. The sky is starting to lighten. Slowly but noticeably the sky above us changes from its usual murky brown-black to a shade of reddish brown. And from there on it becomes lighter and lighter. Until it looks like old blue LEDs are lighting up the entire city.
“They didn’t…” She doesn’t need to finish her sentence. Sirens or no sirens, the blue light does not lie.
“Come on!” I scream, grabbing her arm with my hand as I pull her through the street. Her fight-flight-response has gone into full freeze-mode in the exact moment when that can’t happen. My heart races in my chest, adrenaline pumps my blood around in such a speed I hear a distant rushing in my ears. “Come on!” My voice is shrill, ringing through an empty street where it echoes against the surrounding buildings. No doorways in which we can hide, no trees to even give us the illusion of cover. Frantic, my fists bang on doors, my fingers press on bells. No one answers, no one comes to our rescue. As I turn around I see the great ball of light in the sky. Coming towards us at an alarming speed. My eyes focus on her. She’s sobbing, trembling in the street. Huddled together with her arms wrapped around herself.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbles, her voice breaking as tears run down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry.”
She asked me to come out tonight, she convinced me to stay after my argument with Eric. When I was about to check the app before we left, she grabbed my phone to convince me to stay for a last round of shots. And I forgot to check my phone afterwards. She keeps mumbling on how she’s sorry, while all I see are her grey eyes. They’re filled with fear. And the comet coming towards us.
“It’s okay,” I say in a soft tone, smiling at her as I wrap my arms around her. Her shoulders are shaking as I look up at the sky again while I hold her tight against me. Thank god she’s a little smaller than me.
“It’s okay,” I whisper. “I got you babe.”
And as I say it, I drop down. Taking her with me. Pushing her to the ground, covering her body with mine.
“Run home! Run home, I’ll be right behind you. Always.”
It’s the last words I manage to speak before I feel the dust on the unprotected skin of my neck. It won’t be long before it burns through my clothes and covers more of me. My mind goes blank before I can scream, the pain is too much for my conscious mind to bare. I don’t feel anything, except a desperate hope that for once, she listened to me and ran. Ran as soon as the comet passed. Rand and would remember me and all he fun we had later on, instead of my screams of agony as the dust tore through me like burning lava. Ripping my body apart cell by cell. Until there would be nothing left of me. But at least she would live, and that was enough.

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The Hostel Hunter

16/05/2022

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