At five, no one was at the party because really, who comes to a party at five?
Scott Templeton had just about remembered to turn up which was a good thing; he was the host, after all. Scott’s best friend Jimmy Orci was there too, having bought the keg. Then there was Asteroth Jones; a maths geek, sure, but he knew how to set up all of the clocks. It was Scott’s idea which was rare as he wasn’t a fan of ideas on the best of days. In return for admittance to the party, Asteroth set up all the televisions, all the clocks, even an app for people’s phones. They all ran backwards, counting down.
“To the end of the world!” Jimmy yelled, and poured another row of pre-party shots.
“So what is this thing?” Petra asked.
“Scott Templeton’s dad was taken to the nuthouse last week. It turned out he had this bunker in the garden. Everyone thought it was just a shed,” Shane always had her ear to the ground, it was big enough, after all.
“I remember it well.”
“Not well enough because it turned out to be a weird bomb bunker thing, right? Anyway, he was some survivalist nut and was certain the world was coming to an end except why would it? The weather’s so awesome here.”
The weather was awesome in Fate Cove, but Petra doubted that would stop an apocalypse.
The girls looked at the locked door to the bathroom, Miranda was in there, having some alone time. Always allergic to awkward silences, Shane carried on, “His mum’s off somewhere being pampered in return for having had their life get all upheaved, so it’s just Scott and his brother for a while. Anyway, he and Jimmy Orci went inside the bunker and from what I heard there’s all this weird food, and a still where Mr Templeton was making his own spirits.”
“Are you taking me to some kind of moonshine party, Shane?”
She shook her head, “No. I don’t know. Does moonshine come from stills?”
Lacey was busy finishing Petra’s homework but took enough time to laugh at their short friend. It wasn’t that Petra couldn’t do her maths homework, but if someone else was offering then it would have been a waste not to take advantage. The girl had returned from her summer holiday with blisteringly-bright red hair. It didn’t go well with her complexion, but Petra liked Lacey enough that it didn’t matter. Apparently she didn’t do it for any reason in particular, although the rumours had it that Joe and Lena Parker were talking about a fascination with red-headed girls. Petra asked her which Parker twin she was interested in. “I could put a word in. My family and theirs go way back.”
Lacey never answered, instead she offered to help Petra out by running through her campaign for student government. The election didn’t matter, Petra knew she was going to win as there was no one else who mattered, but campaigning was fun. It kept her and Lacey together.
“Miranda, you okay?” Petra yelled at the bathroom.
Shane made a little, ‘throwing up’ hand gesture with her fingers. Lacey nodded. Petra wasn’t supposed to notice and pretended that she didn’t.
“Five minute warning. How am I the one giving that? I’m going outside for a smoke,” Petra snatched the lighter out of Lacey’s bag and walked out of the bedroom.
The Fate Cove houses were identical on Lighthouse Walk. All the same designs, the same colours inside and out; she’d been in enough to know that they followed the same pattern. Nothing happened on the island, nothing worth noting. Maybe it would be the best place for an apocalypse. She checked the time on her phone. Six forty. They should take more time if they wanted to arrive properly late. Templeton’s place was only a handful of streets away, and they would only be two hours late. Who started a party at five anyway? Scott said he and Jimmy felt it would be the right time. While her phone was still linked to Shane’s wifi, she downloaded the “Apocalypse Party App”, ignoring the terms and conditions. She started it and a countdown appeared. She tried backing out to her menu but it wouldn’t budge. “10:19:20” it said, and kept ticking down.
“Guys,” she called as softly as the could (a proper ruler wouldn’t need to yell), “have any of you downloaded this app?”
Shane skipped through her front door, followed by Lacey, carrying Petra’s bag. “Yeah, it’s weird isn’t it? Since when did a party want us to download an app?”
Lacey’s brown eyebrows popped up over her glasses, “I fell for it too.”
Once the two girls were at the end of the drive, Petra walked up to Lacey and plucked her glasses off. “None of that. It’s not like it’ll matter where we’re going. Reading should be the last thing on your mind.”
“Rather than boys? No thanks.” Lacey and Petra had been in an undefined thing for a little while; Petra preferred it nonspecific in order to still go out with some of the guys when necessary but Lacey was less keen on them.
Finally, Miranda ran out of the front door, a tall girl just about able to keep from falling out of her skirt. Petra decided against telling her off for running. The end result may have provided her with some amusement, even if the girl suffered.
Petra tried to walk slowly through the suburbs, reining in her minions who were too enthusiastic and chaotic to wander around without good leadership. She made her way through a cigarette and a half, then attempted to text Cassie Cross, only to remember that her phone had been ruined thanks to some nerd at the party.
“I think once the countdown’s over then it’ll unlock,” Miranda said, always the optimist. Of course she’d fallen for it too. None of them had read the terms, and none of them knew if it would have honestly said anything about what would happen to their phones. The Templeton house was on the opposite side of the suburbs, on the low end of the cliff, near enough to the country club that Petra was sure that golf balls must still be on their flat, faux-Mediterranean rooftop. She’d not gone up there, although she’d sneaked over fences on each direction at varied points during her time with Scott.
There were a couple of people wearing gas masks and chunky jackets by the entrance.
“Safe zone in here,” one of them said.
“Uh huh,” Petra saw her half-finished cigarette, “You two, do I have to stay outside to smoke?”
“You can smoke inside, but you can’t come out until the countdown is done.”
Lacey stepped over the plants in the front garden and tried to look through the curtains. “Looks like there are people in there, but they’ve boarded up the windows from the inside. Not well.”
“This some kind of weird death cult?” Shane said. “If we ask, you have to tell us.”
“That’s not how it works,” one of the gas mask boys said.
“Shut up, Greg,” the other one said. “We’re not a death cult. It’s the Apocalypse Party. Show us your phones to get in. This is the last party on Earth.”
Petra plucked her phone out of her bag (which Lacey was carrying, of course), flashed them the red countdown with the white numbers. “Whatever. This shows more imagination than Scott’s normally got for a party. Normally it’s just ‘It’s Thursday, let’s drink’, so I’m interested in seeing who’s his organ grinder.”
“Used to be you, I hear,” the gas mask kid who wasn’t Greg said. Both boys giggled.
Petra was too bored by their presence to respond. Shane walked through, showing her phone off. Lacey and Miranda did the same. Once they were through, Petra dropped her phone back in her bag, it wasn’t worth keeping it on her person.
The hallway was covered in plastic sheets, dry ice obscured everything inside. Eventually they entered the living room and could see the keg. Just in case moonshine or whatever was in the bunker wasn’t enough, they also had a keg. A bunch of frat-looking boys were lounging on the sofas, a couple of girls the unfortunate subjects of their attention. Petra led her girls past and all eyes were on them. The boys in the living room must have been Tommy Templeton’s university friends. The big-screen television had the same countdown on it. 09:39:53.
The kitchen was a mess. Some kind of horrible-looking rations everywhere. Kids raided the kitchen. The central unit had spillages and portable barbecues already in action as meat was being lovingly burned. The kitchen windows were also boarded up from the inside. A shoddy job if there was really an end of the world. Digital clocks with the countdown on were everywhere.
“Miranda, take our bags and coats upstairs,” Petra said, even though she had been to enough of the Templeton parties to know where the clothes would go.
They saw the first signs of the bomb shelter, a few jars of a clear-looking liquid. It stank of prior disasters in science class; like when the girls dared each other to drink pure alcohol. Petra didn’t know much about how persuasive she could be until Betty McCloud actually drank some like the idiot she was. She survived, luckily. Petra was the one who put the thought in her head, but she also got her throwing it up and trying to get as much out of her system. As long as she put the playing pieces back how she found them then everything was okay, wasn’t it?
The garden was where all the action was going on. The neighbours must have been away, deaf or bullied into submission by the Templeton clan. Music played loudly, extension leads dangled all the way from the door to the shed. There was another door inside it, leading down.
“Is that the magical bunker?” Petra asked.
One of the many party-goers wearing bandoleers of toy ammunition said, “Yeah, it’s wicked huge and full of all this weird stuff. Mr Templeton must have been our of his gourd.”
Somewhere in the crowd she could hear Scott Templeton’s laugh, crude and artless. She hooked up with him because he was good at what he did, not because he was beautiful. If he blew out a knee or had any other injury young athletes suffered then she would have broken up with him much sooner. The minions all went their own ways. Lacey went into the living room to admire the books the Templetons had to offer. Shane chatted with a few of the young athletes. Petra found her way to the host of the party.
“Petra,” he said. Very civil. He was a lot less so when they broke up. Scott was dressed in jeans and a football top which was stylishly torn and streaked with fake blood, his hair still immaculately gelled in place.
“So what inspired this very unorthodox concept?”
Scott grabbed a skinny kid with a red beret and what passed for a beard if you were only a sixteen year old. “This here’s Asteroth Jones. Year below us. He’s been trying to tell me that the maths jocks are just as good as us. I thought I’d put him to work and this was what he came up with.”
“You made the app that wrecked my phone?”
The young man smiled and held his hand out. “It’ll be fine soon. You did agree to the terms and conditions—”
“No one reads terms and conditions. Will my phone be okay?”
“When the countdown is over, sure. And where is this still?”
She let the maths jock wait to realise that she wouldn’t give him her hand. He went back towards the smell of fire and meat in the house.
“Jimmy’s showing some people it at the moment. You want something to drink?”
She nodded. Right now she’d like nothing more than to slip away for a little while, and if vodka helped that, then she would be grateful. Of course, there was no vodka. Just beer and moonshine. Scott passed her a jar.
The sun was almost gone and from where the garden was, it was almost impossible to see the rest of the island. From the back fence there was the sea and the occasional boat, a distant light. Who knows who would have been on there. Petra missed seeing the rest of anything but the garden, the trashed kitchen or the smoky living room. She walked upstairs, past a few people who were already looking a bit sick. They were just out of the way of the dry ice machine. The moonshine mustn’t have agreed with them. The gas mask kids had gone inside and locked the front door with big chains and padlocks. One of them was still at the entrance, making sure no one tried to get out.
At the top of the stairs was the bathroom, locked. In the top hall the other gas mask kid was leaning against a wall.
“You lost?” he said.
“You looking for a room?”
“With you? Ugh. I need something from my bag.”
“I know where it is.”
There was a noise from the first left, giggling. Miranda and… she didn’t recognise the guy, but she did listen for a moment in case it was someone familiar. They were enjoying their last night on Earth a little early.
The parents’ bedroom was used for coats, it wasn’t a guarantee that it would remain unmolested, but the chances were increased. Scott wouldn’t sleep with her in their bed, despite all the room they would have had. Instead it was always his bedroom, the back of Scott’s car (never hers) or in the changing rooms at school.
She looked at the coats and bags, then heard a noise. Did she catch someone in here? She poked the pile of coats. It would be so tacky if people were getting it on amongst them. No reaction. Then she got down on hands and knees, making sure her skirt didn’t ride too far up.
There were a couple of young kids under the bed. The athletes of the future. The football team were all given an open invitation to any of the other team member’s parties, even the rookies.
“You okay down there?” she said.
“Yeah. The world’s ending,” one of them said. He must have been high school age to get in, but from this angle he looked more like ten.
“So I hear. What are you doing?”
“It’s what we would do. You know, if the world was going to end.”
Petra nodded, thought for a second and decided that she wouldn’t do that if the world was ending.
“You got a phone?”
One of them nodded and held it up, 08:08:32.
“And I assume neither of you have any cigarettes?”
They shook their heads.
“You’re going to get sore down there if you keep hiding. You want me to get you a drink? Some cola or something?”
“We’re good, thanks.”
Petra stood back up and moved the coats to provide better shelter for the pair. She shook her head and decided that hiding would be a bad way to spend the apocalypse.
Petra tried to look out of one of the boarded up windows. The gas mask kids weren’t around to stop her. The streetlights were on, at least, they looked like they might have been streetlights in the old, pre-apocalyptic world.
“Dear,” she said to a passer-by, “Fetch me a proper glass. I’m not going to drink from a jar. I’m not a hipster.”
The young girl said, “I can’t. Tommy and some of the others smashed them.”
Petra swayed gently into the kitchen. There was a corner which glittered in the dim light. Apparently from now on they were only allowed to use the storm lanterns that their dad had hoarded in his bunker. She crouched down and realised that there was so much broken glass everywhere. A couple of tiny slivers were already in the exposed tops of her feet. She could see large fragments of beautiful glasses. Some one-of-a kind, some were from expensive sets, she recognised a couple from the types of glasses her father had at home and he only bought the finest things in life.
There was a crash and laughter. Petra’s feline eyes widened for a moment. Two of the frat boys had a small box of glass ornaments; animals or shapes vaguely like them. They were in hysterics.
“Hey, there was a girl there!” one of them said.
“Did you come from the glass… bauble thing?”
Petra decided against talking to them and walked into the living room. If they were out here being jerks, at least she could be somewhere else and not under the threat of having glass thrown at her.
She sat on the sofa and saw a couple of people playing Scrabble in one corner.
“Is that really how you want to see out the end of the world?” she said.
“Yeah, what about you?” she had no answer for that. There was nothing which came to mind. Before she started worrying about that, the young girl ran into the living room with a Champagne flute which hadn’t yet been destroyed. The girl had a few small shards of glass stuck in her hand, oblivious to them.
“I got this for you.”
It was good being the ruler sometimes, Petra thought. She looked at it and said, “Take it to the bathroom upstairs and wash it out, in case there’s still any broken glass. Oh, and look after your hands too, okay?”
The girl left. Petra looked at one of the mostly-full jars which had been left lying around and decided that at if she was going to get wasted, at least it was going to be with the last beautiful-looking Champagne flute in the world.
Petra’s vision had changed over the last hour; she didn’t know if it was all the dry ice which was leaking through from the hallway or all the moonshine. She daintily sipped the burning liquid and watched Lacey going through all the books on the shelves. The girl was on a mission. It was difficult to see her in the darkness, the storm lantern seemed darker, somehow.
“What are you doing?”
Lacey opened a book and skimmed through it. She looked up at Petra and said, “Like you care.”
“I care. I like people. They interest me. I want to be around them in our last hours of life and see what they do.”
Lacey found what she was looking for, an ornate bookmark. She plucked it out and ripped it in two.
“There’s like, six and a half hours left in the world, right?”
“More or less,” Petra said. She could have bothered to look at the television but that was for other people to do.
“Then what’s the point in bookmarks? Or books? It’s not like you can read everything here in six hours. Or even one book. There’s no need for any of it.”
“So you’re with the nihilists in the corner, reducing yourself to primitive behaviour?”
Lacey slid from the arm of the chair she was perched on and onto the lap of an unconscious boy. She didn’t notice him and he didn’t stir. “So are you with the people hoarding things in the bunker?”
“People are doing what?”
Lacey answered but Petra didn’t register it. She got up and moved through the kitchen, around the glass in the corner and into the garden. There was a makeshift fire in one end. People were in the pool in the hope that whatever made the world end wouldn’t hurt them in there. The doors to the shed were open, and the doors inside the shed, too. Petra stood at the edge and peered down.
“Hello,” a couple of people called back up. One of them climbed up a ladder. It was Jimmy Orci, Scott’s friend. Half a hockey mask hung off his face, he strapped it back on. “You got anything to store?”
Petra looked at her skirt, it looked like a breeze might make it disintegrate, as intended and was useless for hiding apocalypse survival supplies in. Her shoes were the kind completely impractical for the end of the world. He looked at her, too.
“I’m not going in there.”
He laughed, “We want artefacts in the bunker. The end of the world feels pretty final for us as like, a people, but hopefully the bunker will survive and whoever comes along will be able to learn what our culture was like.”
“I’d make a gorgeous artefact. The answer is still no, though.”
Jimmy smiled and she wondered for a second why she ended up with Scott instead of him. “It’s okay, we’re all dead in a few hours.”
“Have you spoken to Lacey? She’s been going through the books. She might help you find the right ones to store.”
“Good point,” he gave the finger-guns to her and she let him go.
Petra stood by Tommy and his friend as they looked at the pile of broken glass. She had a hand shielding the last Champagne flute in the world from him, just in case.
“Why are you doing this?” she slurred.
Tommy was wild-eyed when he got up. “The world’s ending, right? If this is all that’s left for like, five hours and fifty-whatever minutes, imagine a world without any glasses. Just imagine trying to live like that. Well, we can make that happen right here.”
Petra wasn’t sure if it was all the drink, but he almost made sense. She drank the last of the moonshine from the glass and held it out to him, “Oh go on. Change the world,” with or without the apocalypse, it would probably be the last time he would.
She stumbled to one of the jars. Asteroth was sat by the counter, Shane was sat on it. “So how d’you think the world is going to end?” Asteroth asked.
“Zombies,” Lacey said.
“It’s always zombies.”
“Plague,” Tommy said.
“What about you?” Petra asked Asteroth.
“Terminators. Skynet, Google, that sort of thing. Probably man-made, you know, some smart people making us agents of our own demise.”
“Like you did to our phones?” she held hers up, useless lump that it was. It slipped from her hand, hit the counter top with a thud and then slid onto the floor. Petra didn’t bother picking it up or getting a minion to do it, she could see the red light of the counter still ticking down. “05:21:07”
“Where’s Scott?” Petra said. If the world was going to end she may as well spend a few last moments with someone.
Asteroth pointed at the bunker, still sat on one of the kitchen stools, watching intently. She swayed towards it, the floor threatening to meet her again and again, past the phone, past the pile of glass. She fell onto the patio, face first.
Petra’s cheek hurt. Her limbs moved first, fingers reaching for any surface to grip onto. The world moved away from her as she pushed up, a spiral that kept going when she stopped. “Is the world still ending?”
There was an affirmative groan from the bunker. Petra crawled to it on hands and knees.
“Scott?” Another groan. “Yeah, I’m not going down there.” She didn’t want to hide from the end, instead she wanted to see it face-to-face. That’s what the party was all about, wasn’t it?
Flashing lights, bloody lip, warm skin. Darkness at the edges moved in even as the first fingers of dawn stretched across the wide Fate Cove sky.
There was no outside, there was nothing but the party-goers in the living room, watching the television as the countdown carried on, mercilessly. They were huddled together on the sofas, on the floor leaning against the legs of others or asleep under the coffee table. The books had been scattered by Lacey who had a pile of a dozen which she wanted to be with by the end. They were missing at least half of the party. No one could get out, so they must have been in the bunker, in other rooms or unconscious somewhere. It didn’t matter, really, this was the last place on Earth.
The curtains were closed, but they didn’t hide the thick wooden boards which had been nailed over the windows. Some of the furniture had been broken apart and added to the existing barricades by the more enterprising party-goers.
The moonshine was gone; the keg was empty and stacked up with all the chairs which made for a flimsy wall blocking the archway to the kitchen. It may have been a half-hearted attempt, but it was all they had.
“I shouldn’t have coasted through school,” Tommy Templeton said. “I’ve spent the last year so scared that I don’t know what I’m doing.”
There was a moment’s silence, no one knew how to react. It’s not like they could have toasted it; all the booze and the things to drink out of were long gone.
“I miss my old friends,” Lacey said. “Sana and the others didn’t expect anywhere near so much from me.” Petra knew the fault for that was her own.
Petra said, “I’ve never told anyone I love them. Not my brother, not my friends, boyfriends, girlfriends… no one.” She paused, not having even actively thought it before. Maybe it was the moonshine, the injuries or the oncoming apocalypse.
She let the others speak and thought about what she said, about how if there was any more time then maybe she’d have anything she could do about it.
The last of them was Jimmy, who mentioned having pursued sports under pressure from his family instead of poetry like he’d always wanted. She looked at the clock on the television. It was down to under a minute. They watched it in silence.
The world didn’t end, because it wasn’t ever going to. Still, for a moment it really seemed that way for everyone at the party. Everyone took a sharp breath as the counter hit zero. Petra looked at Lacey, who she’d been so distant from in the last couple of months. She looked at the rest of the room. No one was dead, but they were surrounded by darkness and ruins.
She got up, tiptoed over sleeping bodies and dug her nails into one of the boards covering a window. She pulled at a board, trying to ignore the sensation of a fingernail tearing as she pried it off the window. Early summer light flooded the room, making the kids recoil. Petra saw their shadows stretched long across the floor and out into the kitchen. Blood and broken glass and passed out boys.
“Lacey, let’s go,” Petra said and put her arm out. The girl took it and was lifted up out of her cocoon of books. Shane and Miranda were probably somewhere, Petra couldn’t remember where they were anymore but her drunk person homing beacon had gone off. She wanted to be back at the Imperial with her family. She wanted to tell her brother and her father that she cared about them. She wanted to tell Lacey to see her friends again.
The Fate Cove streets were blasted with sunlight to the point where they were barely visible. Few people were up at this hour, Petra saw a few shambling bodies making their way across town. As she passed close to one it groaned, maybe it was talking to her, but she couldn’t tell. It was busier along Main Street so she slumped left, into the alleyways. It would be safer away from the horde. The blasted light made everything look pale, even the filth she tiptoed around with bloody feet.
The crossroads between the commercial and hotel districts seemed miles larger than Petra remembered them. A car sat at the traffic lights, belching exhaust. A man shouted something from inside, barely audible over the loud music rumbling from inside. He sped away, almost toppling Petra with the car’s force. She couldn’t keep dragging Lacey around, so she left her on a bench near the crossroads. “Be free,” she said, or maybe she just thought it. Either way, Lacey would be better off without her.
The rest of the journey was easier alone, Petra stumbled her way towards the beach and her home, occasionally slumping against a wall for support. The beach was quiet at this hour, the water high and all-encompassing, no sign of a world beyond it. She turned her back to the sea and walked into the dark of the Imperial Hotel lobby. Someone may have said something to her, or it might just have been ghosts.
The black and white diamond-shaped tiles were all Petra saw as she went on autopilot all the way to the lifts. Her hand limply pressed the ‘penthouse’ button and she waited. It took less time than she thought it would to get up. The doors dinged open and she saw the distant world of her home. Her feet would stain the carpet if she walked onto it, but she didn’t care anymore. There was a chattering in the background, she couldn’t make the words out, but she knew it meant her family were safe. That was the main thing. She got part way through the thick carpet and saw the long L-shaped leather sofa beckoning her. On the balcony her brother and father were enjoying breakfast. They’d not noticed her, they’d not experienced the imaginary apocalypse she had. She smiled, knowing they were safe, then fell down onto the sofa where the passed out. She could tell them she loved them tomorrow.