A writer working on his magnum opus had to face the end of the world.
Ermolai had been attempting to immortalize himself through works of literature for two decades.
It was hard work for sure.
He had been writing ever since knew the language. His mother said he learned to write before he could speak. He wrote on the swinging chair on the porch of his childhood home. He wrote on a slim notebook hidden under the English textbook while the teacher was talking. He wrote on prom night, shut in his bedroom with all the lights off. He studied engineering in college to please his parents, for he knew he should atone for ignoring their love for eighteen years.
When he acquired a typewriter, he typed. Rolls of manuscripts pooled onto the water-damaged floor of his college dorm. He would accidentally wake up his roommate, who would grumble and then yell at him in the darkness.
Upon completion of the bachelor’s degree, he rented a good suburban family’s garage and lived there. He had a used computer and it took five minutes to turn on, and he had to remember to save the document before closing.
His first publication was a short story published in a science fiction magazine, after a few dozen rejections. It put some food on his foldable table. He realized the market for genre fiction and thus he made money from it, enough to keep him alive in the dimmed light of his square room.
Any spare time after deadlines, eating, and sleeping, he would spend them on his Untitled Magnum Opus.
Define Magnum Opus: a large and important work of literature, especially regarded as a writer’s most important work.
He was put on this earth to complete this, his most important work. He would one day finish and publish it, and his life would be complete. It was doubtful that people in this day and age would understand the true meaning of such work, though. He wouldn’t be surprised if no publishers would take the risk in publishing this tome. Many famous authors in history were remembered posthumously.
As for the moment, it sat at 920 pages and lacked an ending. He cherished the moment when it would be complete, therefore he should be fully prepared for that.
He made preparation. He was going to shut himself in the garage and write Part Five of his Untitled Magnum Opus on the first of February and finish it in 28 days.
It was doable.
He had received a check of $150 through the mail. He went out to cash it and buy food. He hadn’t seen the outside world in a week, and the sunlight was brighter than he remembered.
It was slightly more crowded in the discount store, but only slightly so. There were families doing their weekly shopping, and he had seen a more hard-edged man pushing full carts down the isles. They bought crates of canned foods and water and loaded them onto the back of their monster trucks.
The shelves were almost bare when he arrived. Still, it was more than enough. Non-perishable products were great for his shut-in.
He came out with a cart full of groceries. Two loaves of bread for fast consumption, peanut butter, instant ramen, canned meat, canned corn, canned beans. Alcohol. He drank cheap whiskeys, but there were a few beers in the basket. He didn’t have a fridge, so anything frozen was out of the question. He would have taken the canned sardines, but they reminded him of his lesser times in college.
He rolled the cart down the street. Cars sped past him and no one spared him a glance. He pressed the secret password to open the garage door. He placed the cart in his den, next to the bookshelves. The garage door hummed as it unrolled, and finally closed.
He was inside his kingdom again.
All better. Drained from his outing, he was recharging as he leaned back on his faux leather office chair. The computer began to boot up. He grabbed a bottle of water and drank, eyes never leaving the loading screen.
He scanned the document and found the machine too slow to load to the entire thing. He booted up the printer and began to print. All 920 pages of his work. The printer made a buzzing sound as it worked in the background.
When it’s done, he had the stack and flipped through them once and once again. The sound of the paper was like the fluttering of wings. He smelt the heavenly ink.
He looked upon his screen. It was blank except for the two words: Part Two.
He adjusted the type size. His eyes were getting worse these days, but it would not matter when it was over.
He stretched his arms, cracked his knuckles and began to type.
Days blurred together. Time lost its meanings. Ermolai typed, ate, and slept. His life became hazy in the end.
The nice suburban family didn’t bother him—that’s why they were nice. They stayed upstairs, talked quietly, walked quietly, and even the children played quietly. Which was why when there was a loud crash, it woke him from a drunken slumber.
He stared wide-eyed at the bleach-white ceiling. There was a throb in his right eye. It was difficult to tell reality from a dream, and a dream from the words that poured from his fingertips.
When the crash was followed by a scream, he sat upright.
He couldn’t tell the time. There was no clock, but judging by the blue-ish gray cloud seen from the slit above the garage door, it was either dusk or dawn.
He paddled his way across the various objects littering the floor. A small door connected the garage to the kitchen, but it usually stayed locked for the safety of both the family and himself.
It was only unlocked when the matriarch came looking for the monthly rent. Then she would close it carefully, and turn the lock slowly, so it didn’t make much of a noise, so it didn’t hurt his feelings.
He tried the door. It was locked. Why wouldn’t it be?
He heard a few clamors upstairs. Thud. Thud. Thud.
He went back to sit down at his computer, yet there was this constant distraction. He had tolerated the existence of humans in his close proximity, but it was too much this time.
He fought the urge to scream at the family “Stop the noise!”
He settled for knocking on the door and yelled, “Would you please be quiet?”
The noise continued downstairs. Thud. Thud. Thud. Down the staircase. Then it all died down.
He went back to work.
The quiet was nice.
When the noise sounded right next to him, he almost jumped out of his skin.
The office chair creaked loudly. He stared at the door. The sound came urgently. Thud. Thud. Thud. Something banging on the door.
Knock. Knock. Knock. He scrambled backward.
What the hell was that?
“Stop!” He shouted at the person on the other side of the door. “If it’s about the rent, there’re still a few days until it’s due!”
It wouldn’t stop.
Ermolai began to pack. Whatever was going on, was either supernatural or he was going insane. Judging by the frequency of the knocking and the force of it, it’s only a matter of time before the person made a hole on the panel, or brought down the door altogether.
It was clear that he couldn’t stay there.
He didn’t have many possessions. A backpack could carry them all. The stack of paper and the computer. A change of clothes. Clean underwears, not many of them. A jacket, wrapped around the computer to minimize damages. Bottles of water and some food. He swung on the bag and opened the garage door.
The neighbor, an old lady dressed in a flowery gown, snapped her head up at the sound. She stared at him unknowingly, unblinkingly, and it was unnerving.
She was making her way over to him. A slow shuffle, then faster, faster, almost up to the speed of a jog.
When she was some ten feet away, he finally recognized the pattern on her gown wasn’t flowers, but blood splatters.
He looked at her face, which was missing a half. She reached out for him, made gurgling sounds with a hollow cheek. A bloody eyeball skewed on her ring finger.
Naturally, he did what was acceptable in this situation he screamed, and ran.
His backpack bounced on his back as he went. His jeans were coming loose, his shirt riding up, and he could feel the wind against his waist and upper ass. There was no time to worry about his dignity. There was no dignity in fear.
After about thirty seconds, he was heaving like an old dog. He slowed down to a jog and then a fast walk, and finally stopped. He bent over in the middle of the sidewalk, breathing heavily.
He took in the silence around him and the sheer contrast of his loud heartbeats. He looked up and scanned the neighborhood—it was eerily quiet, devoid of anything living. There was a dog barking, but it could be an illusion. When he looked to that direction the dog silenced. The houses were there. A few pieces of clothes and trash littered the unkempt front lawns. The curbs were empty of cars, except one.
Was it a dream? If it was, the vividness was equally alarming. The only car was a white sedan. It had a broken window. He approached it without much thought.
There was a corpse sitting behind the wheel. He took a few steps back, still stunned by the state of the world he was living in.
He couldn’t stay here. He had to get away. Far, far away.
He took another closer look at the corpse. It wasn’t moving, and showed no sign of imminent animation. He tried the door handle, didn’t expect much, but the door unlocked. He froze, afraid of sudden noise would wake the corpse. It didn’t respond. Still had its mouth hung open; he was decomposing.
Ermolai noticed the key was still jammed in the ignition. He hesitated for only a second, then hauled the body out of the car and climbed into the driver’s seat.
The car smelt unpleasant, but the window was down. He started the car. It coughed a few times, then hummed to life.
He drove, heavy-hearted, toward the edge of the city. His manuscript never once came to the forefront of his head.
It was a different world. One unsafe to him. One he couldn’t play God with. He had to navigate its rules like everyone else who wished to stay alive.
It was a new world, and he wasn’t brave at all.