It had been 17 months since the incident, 17 months since Jack had seen another living soul. He wandered the debris littered streets. These streets, remnants of the once bustling city, now seemed dead. Quite the recluse before the incident, Jack now ached for human interaction. The cause of the incident was not completely clear to him. Jack recalled standing among a crowd of strangers in the streets, eyes to the sky with anticipation, as a siren blasted overhead. All of them waiting for the faintest glimpse of a meteor or a missile. Why were they not underground? Why were they not in bunkers somewhere? It wasn’t that they couldn’t find shelter. They didn’t want to. The experience mystified Jack as he thought back on it. Then everything went black with the sound of glass shattering all around him. Jack called out for help. The only response he received was the echo of his voice in this seemingly barren street. Jack coughed, choking on debris in the air, and lost consciousness. Jack awoke an unknown amount of time later in the darkness. He felt his stomach churn. He was starving. But, at least he could breathe. Jack felt his way around the black streets, stepping over shards of metal. There were no bodies. Where had everyone gone?
Jack had been raised to be Christian. The event felt a lot like the rapture discussed in certain sessions of Sunday school. But then where was everyone else? Certainly a merciful god would not leave him alone on this planet, the only living creature on Earth. Besides, they said only believers would be taken by God. Was he the only forsaken soul, the only unworthy of God’s forgiveness? No, this was something else. Jack stepped up onto the curb of the street and walked slowly with his fingers outstretched until they came in contact with a stone wall. Jack walked along the wall, his hands sliding along it as he blindly explored what he expected was the outside of a shop of some kind. Then, broken glass. It was a door. Carefully, Jack ducked under the door handle as he entered the building. “Hello?!”, he called out. No one responded. His hands out in front of him, Jack slowly navigated the entry of the building. The room was small. He could tell by the flat sound of his voice. Jack’s finger tip touched something with the sound of a crackle. It was a bag of potato chips. He knew it. Jack ripped open the bag and began devouring the chips inside. He wasn’t sure what flavor they were. Everything tasted like blood. Jack took solace in this taste. This taste was confirmation that he was still alive. Death was the only thing that had ever scared him.
It felt like days before the sun appeared back in the sky. Jack awoke to the first sight he had seen in this time, rays of sunlight coming through holes in the ceiling of the little bodega in which he had been staying. Jack quickly rolled over and pushed himself to his feet. The street outside was a mess. Glass and metal covered the face of the abandoned thoroughfare. There was not a person, not a body, in sight.
If this was some sort of spiritual rapture, there would be bodies all over the place. Jack laughed at his thought. How stupid was such a consideration? He hadn’t believed in such things since he was old enough to think for himself. This sight made the experience that much realer. Jack felt a certain shock from the view. At the same time, he felt comfort in the autonomy this wasteland offered. No longer would he be bound by rules of the life before. Although Jack started this new life with optimism, as the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, Jack felt more and more that he was losing himself in the desolate nature of this new world.
Jack’s loneliness inspired him to look for any kind of companionship and any kind of purpose behind his pain. He found it odd how being alone caused him so much anguish. Jack often found himself contemplating the existence of something bigger than him. The thought of God scared him. If there was a God, he, she, or it would not be happy with some of Jack’s decisions. If sin were more than a human creation, Jack would be doomed to an eternity of suffering. He often had to remind himself of how illogical some of what he was taught about God and the bible seemed. Ironically, it was humankind’s loneliness, it’s desire for purpose, which Jack attributed to it’s creation of the various theories regarding the existence of a God.
One evening, as Jack was deeply asleep, he dreamed about his childhood home. His father reading from the bible as his mother sat nearby, listening: “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Jack stared out the living room wind, into the darkness. “Jack, are you listening?!”, his mother demanded. But Jack could barely hear her as his father’s words, “This is the second death” replayed over and over in his head. The darkness got bigger until it and his father’s words were all that remained. The second death; the darkness; it was coming for him. Jack awoke in a panic. The smell of rotten eggs made the air almost too thick to breathe. Jack turned to his hands and knees and heaved, spilling junk food and blood onto the grass. Jack rolled over onto his back and wept.
Although Jack felt lonely when he spent time in this world, he learned to lose himself in his thoughts. Jack would spend hours reflecting on stories he had heard in Sunday school. He created people in his head, people with whom he could interact, people who could provide a surprise once in a while. Before long, these bible stories were the only ones Jack could remember. These were the only stories Jack’s friends would tell him.
One who spoke to Jack regularly was a friend by the name of Job. Job liked to tell stories of angels and demons, good versus evil, the power of the almighty God. Although Jack knew these stories to be fictional, he loved hearing Job’s enthusiasm in his telling of the stories. Jack would ask question upon question, attempting to catch Job in a contradiction. To Jack, it was a game. But Job feared God. Job was afraid of God. Jack could tell. Anytime Jack asked Job to tell of a personal experience with God, Job disappeared. Jack would go days sometimes without hearing from Job. But Job always came back.
One evening, while sitting by the fire as Job told a story from the bible, Jack interrupted, “Please! All we talk about is the bible! Tell me something about yourself. Do you have any kids?” Job said, “Not anymore”. “What happened?”, Jack asked with an apologetic tone. Job was silent, staring into the fire. “Go on! Tell him!”, Peter yelled. “Yes! Tell him!”, Adam said. The voices in Jack’s head all urged. The buildings around them began to shake. Then the fire was snuffed out.
Once again, Jack was alone. No imaginary friends would visit him. Jack awaited the sunrise, but it never came. The darkness was his world. He was a part of the darkness. The darkness was Heaven and Hell. It was God and the devil and it was coming to collect him. Then Jack was running. He didn’t know how. He couldn’t see where he was going. But he was frantically trying to escape the darkness. He found no buildings, no shards of metal in the streets. It was nothingness. He felt this darkness closing in on him, sucking him in, weighing him down. God was no longer something intangible, a lie taught to keep him in line. God was real! God was angry! God was coming for him! “…and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”, Jack’s father read. His mother demanded, “Jack, are you listening?!”