While walking home from work, I noticed a small pile of clothing on the skinny ocean of grass between the sidewalk and the road. A pair of glitter-striped tights, a yellow sweater, a necktie. I wondered why the clothes, which seemed new, even clean, h(more)ad been left there.
I remembered other heaps of similarly discarded clothing I'd seen on sidewalks or front lawns around town. Blazers, lingerie, high heels, hats, filmy blouses - these did not seem like the sort of clothes a homeless person might leave behind, or a non-homeless person might forget.
Why, then? Who were the people losing, literally, their shirts? Had an airplane's cargo hold sprung open mid-flight, releasing a shower of suitcases?
I hadn't noticed any suitcases nearby, and no nude folks were in sight. I turned a new theory over with every step, invariable squashing each one with a heel of my new leather boots.
And then I knew. The Rapture. The clothing's owners had been spirited away, body and soul (but apparently sans garments), to some celestial paradise. The worthy, or at any rate the chosen, had simply vanished. There had been nothing about it on the news, which raised further questions. And then I understood that too - so few had been taken, the majority of us hadn't noticed. For those who had disappeared, police reports would be filed, dogs would go unwalked, dinners would remain unmade - but there would be no judgments for the rest of us, no apocalypse, and certainly no sudden and unexplained bouts of nakedness in public (unless tequila was involved).
I walked on, imagining those who had been taken lounging au natural in a garden of unearthly beauty (and bottomless cocktails), til a nail pierced my boot's sole, stopping short of my foot.
Glory, hallelujah. (less)
Without answering Freya, Atlas straightened his bent back, shifting the sphere of wailing souls he carried to hold it high above his head. He closed his eyes and murmured a low, strange song. His clothes, those gossamer rags bolted to his flesh, stirred in a breeze I(more) couldn't feel. The tattered fabric began to darken, as if dipped in ink, lengthen, and writhe.
A distant thump behind me caught my ear. I glanced over my shoulder. Two women, one wavering in and out of vision, and another, with vivid red hair, were arguing. I couldn't hear what they were saying, though I knew the fight was cresting.
A deep bass groan and tittering whispers pulled my attention away from the women. Atlas's now-trailing robes were still lengthening, slithering over the ground and engulfing those of Disease's children who hadn't fled or been shredded by the other creatures. The rustling fabric was inching toward me, and I realized the groaning and whispering was coming from it.
It stopped a few feet from me, the ragged edge fluttering, as if questioning, then shot toward Disease and Asmodeus, binding them in yards of heavy darkness. Asmodeus cried out, in pain, and began to whimper. "I won't do it again," he said over and over as the whispering cloth covered his face. Disease flailed silently, her telepathic voice drowned under the rush of tightening, groaning fabric.
Freya rushed by me in a blur of shining breastplate and bouncing red hair. "You don't get to have all the fun, Atty!" she called up to Atlas as his whispering slowed. She grabbed the knot of seething cloth in one hand, sheared it with her flaming sword, revealing my weakened demons.
"Run for it!" Her sword quivered.
Atlas, silent, hurled the shrieking world.
The boat sputters, then stalls, falling silent. As I lilt alone through the waves like an animal carcass, I can't help but think of a story my grandmother used to tell about a time she went swimming with her older sister Rose. As she tells it, the two of(more) them pile into a car with some fast summer friends and drive out to a local hotspot she's never been to before. She walks to the water's edge. It looks tame and feels warm as it laps at her ankles. She strides out confidently from the shoreline, one step, two-- then sinks like a shot as the ground drops out from beneath her.
She surfaces quickly, heart racing, eyes wide with surprise. As she looks back at her big sister, she half asks, half exclaims: "It's so deep!?"
Rose only laughs. "It's not a lake, stupid. It's a quarry!"
I imagine that she must have felt then the way I do now. A quick realization of our errors in judgment. An involuntary recalculation of dimensions. And then a sudden awareness of scale, and a heavy dread that courses through our limbs and claws at our throats as we come to grips with the vastness of that space gaping beneath us.
My vessel was sturdy, once. And in my vessel I felt strong. Then one day, that vessel, the only thing that rendered this churning, incomprehensible void navigable, failed me. Now it's obvious to me how perilous my grip upon it was all along.(less)