A loud ringing filled the dark. It paused for a moment, then rang again. Each sequence louder than the last, as if desperately trying to reach out for a response. It echoed throughout the small, dimly lit room, bouncing off each of the walls. After a fifth time, a hand came down on a little flat screen with pinpoint precision and struck the “snooze” option. The room lay silent for a few minutes, granting the few moments of precious sleep he needed. But then, the incessant buzzer began again. His hand came down but, this time, hovered over the alarm and gently tapped the “turn off” icon.
With a groan and stretch, Jay sat up in his bed. He peered around his small, dusty room through barely opened eyes and saw that sunlight had started to seep through the window. He closed his eyes, rubbed them slowly but harshly with his fingertips, and shook his head fitfully to wake himself up. Pulling the bedsheets off himself, he swiveled over to the edge of his bed and sat there.
He never liked waking up early.
It was always easy to sleep. The mind wandered freely through fantasy and solitude. During a truly peaceful sleep, no noise from the outside world could invade the sanctitude of thought. Jay used to enjoy this peace in the waking world, but not any longer. Only rarely would he ever get himself up after one snooze session but, on important days, he could find the motivation to resist the temptation of sweet ignorance.
Now was the time for work, and Jay had already slept in thirty minutes. He stood up and grabbed the pull cord of his bedroom blinds and, with a quick tug, brought light into the room, illuminating particles of dust and debris that floated wistfully in the air. Jay squinted hard and, for a moment, saw nothing. His vision cleared up and was met with that same familiar sight he had seen for the past three years: brick and glass.
At least, he assumed it was brick. He wasn’t exactly sure what the Guardian Building was made of. Its distinct art deco structure consisted of multi-colored “bricks” and was a gorgeous thing to behold. Jay admired the building and was thankful this city hosted landmarks that weren’t all dreadfully similar and mundane. Admittedly though, he had grown rather tired of seeing it. After three years, the big city novelty had worn off.
He glanced down at Griswold Street to see a typical Detroit morning. People were hastily moving up and down the road, presumably heading to work. From high above, Jay watched them move like lemmings. He could spot the conga lines moving steadily until someone tripped on their shoelace and scattered the papers he was carrying. A few bikers stopped to help him up while, from across the street, a man and his wife just watched. Behind them, an elderly man shivered harshly and breathed hot breath into his hands.
Some of the pedestrians had already donned jackets and winter hats while others still insisted that summer had not yet ended this late in September. Nevertheless, the weather was as unpredictable as ever, which was made doubly so when combined with Michigan’s tendency towards chaos.
Jay had always preferred to wear winter clothes as much as he could. He didn’t own a single pair of shorts and rarely showed his arms past his elbows. Of course, he was still human. He had enjoyed the warm summer days when he could cast away his winter outfit and head out for a drive in his Miata or work on a project in his garage. But those days had long passed and would not come again.
Jay decided he’d stood in his underwear long enough. It was time to get dressed. He walked across the room to his closet and picked out his typical attire—jeans; a random, graphic tee; and his favorite, loose-fitted, gray beanie. Grabbing his phone, keys, and wallet off the nightstand, Jay walked towards the door. He turned, scanned the room, and took a moment to gaze upon it a final time.
He slept in a small bed meant for one that was often unmade and messy but never unwashed. It was located about an arm’s length from the window and on its left was that small, simple, wooden nightstand he’d made himself. Opposite the window was a bookshelf with various knick-knacks and collectibles. The few things he had collected over the years encompassed some of his favorite media and hobbies—model kits of robots; a handful of toy cars; small, wooden creations; and a smattering of novels and comic books.
Jay lingered particularly on the model kits. He had worked meticulously to perfect the techniques he had learned years prior—the techniques he had learned from Her. The models showed the progression of his skill from the first time he had splattered paint on a completed kit to perfectly airbrushed and weathered displays—at least, what he would define as “perfect.” There was always room for improvement—always room for change. But now, these skills he had learned for a focused task were no longer useful. He found no motivation in the little things he loved ever since he lost Her. He let out a deep sigh, walked through the door, and shut it.
The small one-bedroom apartment faintly glowed from the sun fighting its way through the long, slender, vinyl blinds that adorned the large, sliding glass door. Jay walked over and quickly pushed the blinds along the rail. The incoming light revealed a sparsely furnished room. All that occupied the floor was a couch, a small coffee table, and a TV that rested atop an entertainment center along with its remote. Hung on the wall were a handful of movie posters from some of Jay’s favorites: Evil Dead, Robocop, The Matrix, and Tremors. In the same living area was the kitchen.
Jay made his way to the kitchen and popped open the fridge. Not much occupied it; milk, eggs, butter, cheese, and some lunch meat were all that he typically kept. He didn’t keep much because he didn’t know how to make much. She was always the cook, and the few meals She had taught him how to prepare were unbelievably simple, even for a child. He snatched an egg, a tub of butter, and a slice of cheese. Then, he closed the door and faced the countertop and stove behind him.
Upon the stove, on the back burner, sat a small frying pan and to the left was a half loaf of bread and a microwave. He opened his nearly empty cabinet above, pulled out a plate, and set it aside. He pulled the pan forward onto a burner and placed the ingredients he was clumsily holding in his right hand onto the plate. He then turned the knob slowly to a setting slightly above medium, and the low hiss of the gas started to flow.
There were no matches or lighters in this dwelling. No mechanical means to start a fire aside from the flaky igniters located in the stove; however, Jay didn’t need them. With his right hand, he pinched his thumb and index together and curled his other three fingers. A small smoldering began at the base of the mid-knuckles, blackened the skin, and traveled towards the fingertips. A pocket of heat formed around the met fingers and began to glow brightly. Tiny embers started to crackle forth from his skin as his ignition point popped into flame.
He gently held his newborn fire in the space underneath the pan as the flame whooshed around the burner and lit it. Jay moved his hand away, towards the knobs, as the fire at his fingertips fizzled out and the skin returned to its natural appearance. He turned down the burner precisely and brought it to low heat. One-by-one, each ingredient entered the pan: first, a small dollop of butter was placed and swirled around, then the egg was cracked open with the least bit of finesse. He let the egg cook thoroughly. Finally, a slice of cheese topped the dead-simple meal.
As his egg sandwich began to sizzle, Jay walked over to the TV and flicked it on with the remote. He set the remote down on the coffee table and returned to the kitchen to attend to his cooking. As the TV worked through its startup routine, a familiar voice came through the set.
“Well, it’s gonna be a cold one later today, Michelle. As you can see here in the Detroit area, temperatures are going to be dropping to the 30s later today and we’ll actually hit the minuses in the night.”
Jay had always preferred listening to the weather rather than checking his phone. It brought sweet nostalgia of the days he had as a kid—waking up early for a school day, hearing the weatherman fire off the forecast from down the hall where his uncle watched. Jay had always checked the weather when preparing for a trip. His obsessiveness with being prepared allowed him to never get caught in the rain or snow. But the journey he was about to undergo could not wait any longer, and checking the weather was just a formality at this point.
He plopped the contents of the pan between two slices of bread, turned off the stove, and took a seat on the couch. As he ate, the weatherman continued his report. He had finished up the local area, and the graphic behind him now zoomed out to show the entirety of Michigan, attended by familiar soft jazz. The area had changed so much in the past couple of years. Many towns and cities were missing from the report. Temperatures appeared for a handful of cities—Lansing, Flint, Grand Rapids, and a few regions in between.
The fabric of reality had been torn and with it came unruly and unnatural weather. Across Michigan, temperatures ranged from sweltering to freezing; some were marked with a simple question mark. Communication ranges had continued to shrink and getting accurate reports across the state proved exceedingly difficult at times. It wasn’t even assured that the screen Jay was currently staring at was entirely correct.
“And now your weekly forecast,” said the optimistic, disembodied voice.
The next seven days were shown along with temperatures and conditions just as sporadic as the entire map. The image held for a minute and then moved on to the following week; however, only two extra days were displayed. Jay had just about finished eating but had interest in next week’s forecast; his great trek would possibly spill into it. I always try to plan a week in advance, he could hear his uncle reply when Jay had asked why he was so obsessed with the weather. You don’t want something as predictable as the weather to ruin your plans! A complete sarcastic contradiction Jay found humorous, especially in the face of what he was staring at now.
The screen faded to black and slowly returned with a large, red typeface timer. Above it read the words:
An automated female voice chimed in, “Total Convergence in… Nine days… twelve hours… twenty-eight minutes… and… fifty-eight seconds.”
Total Convergence. At one point, that phrase meant something incredibly horrific and unimaginable, but now it was just an acceptable inevitability. Despite his anxiety, Jay glanced over at a large hiker’s rucksack near his front door and let out a deep breath, whispering: “Plenty of time.”
“And now, an all-new episode of Tornado Tamers—” Jay quickly cut off the foreboding voice and walked over to the kitchen with his dirty plate. He placed it in the sink and nearly began the habit of washing it. Sponge in hand, he remembered: Total Convergence. Setting the sponge back down, he left the dirtied plate at the bottom of the sink. He then opened the cabinet, retrieved a glass, poured himself some water, and downed it in one gulp. He was done wasting time.
He knelt by the rucksack. Its dark green canvas was thick and sturdy, with a strong, metal support on the back. Strapped to the top was an ultralight, nylon sleeping bag with a small backpacking tent secured at the base. A silver pot and ladle were looped and dangling on one side and, on the opposite, a lucky charm—a red-dyed rabbit’s foot—was tightly tied. The frontmost pocket held a Leatherman, a compass, a packet of tissues, a battery bank, and a charging cable. In a large side pocket, a hefty water bottle. Jay undid the buckles to the main compartment and opened it up for one final check: five compact MREs (Meal Ready to Eat), a handful of energy bars, a bike pump, a tire patch kit, a collapsible stove top, a tri-folded map outlining his route, a spare set of clothes, and finally—near the bottom—a petite, delicate, pewter urn.
Jay reached in and pulled it out. He cupped it in his hands and ran his thumb across the relief of carnations. Each one precisely and lovingly cast. He was reminded of Her beauty and light. This was the object of his obsession, yet the subject of his ire. The urn was sealed shut with a little lid adorned with a sphere. A significant piece of him was housed within. Turning the tiny object in his hand, he reminisced about their time together.
“Eh, it’s not really my kind of music,” he said in response to Her attempted persuasion.
She assured him it would be fun. That the time they spent together would outweigh his boredom.
“You already bought the tickets, didn’t you?” he asked.
She recoiled for a moment with a meek smile, Her face red with embarrassment, and nodded.
He snickered and shook his head, “Guess I don’t really have a choice, do I?”
With both her hands, She grasped one of Jay’s and tried to relieve his judgment by claiming She could ask a friend instead.
Jay looked up, smiled, and replied, “No, I’ll take ya. I want to spend any sorta event together. I’ll try to enjoy myself and at least it’ll make for a good memory.”
He clung to that memory and memories that came before and after. He could still hear the thumping of the Fox Theatre as the shrills of fangirls overpowered the pop music blasting through the speakers—the rumble of the floorboards beneath and the shaking of the seats. The energy was unreal, and yet Jay couldn’t bring himself to move to the music. As he said, it wasn’t his music. But he remembered Her joy and what that brought to him.
The little urn yanked him from his reverie, and he snapped back to the task at hand. He placed it back into its nestled spot and pulled out the map. The unfolded map revealed a dated Michigan. The spiderweb of roads and highways were no more, and only a scarce amount remained. A red “X” had crossed out the Mackinac Bridge, destroyed by a monstrous tornado that ripped the massive bridge to smithereens. A red line had been drawn from Detroit, spanning across the mid-section of the state horizontally, cutting through key cities, extending Northwest, and stopping at Sleeping Bear Dunes. From there, a straight line connected the dunes to Escanaba across Lake Michigan. Therein lay his goal: a small cemetery on the outskirts of the sleepy Upper Peninsula town.
He double-checked the route and traced his index finger along the major points. He pictured the trip in his mind and saw success—although, he remained realistic. It would not be easy, and many obstacles, sentient or otherwise, would impede his progress. But Jay had to do this; he made Her a promise. By bike, the pilgrimage should take only three days, but he packed extra things in case of trouble. The world had fallen into ruin, and journeys were no longer effortless.
He packed up the map and buckled the straps. Above him was a coat rack with a single black, hoodless, winter jacket. He snagged it down, slipped it on, and rolled up the sleeves past his elbows. Slinging the pack through his left arm and over his shoulder, he shot his right arm through the other side and pulled the straps taut. As he stood, he rolled his shoulders and bucked them forward; the backpack was heavy, yet balanced and comfortable. Jay found his shoes to the side where the backpack had been and knelt to put them on. The worn and grimy Chucks were not well suited for long-distance walks or bike rides, but they were all he had—and they were all he ever felt comfortable wearing.
He quickly patted his pocket and felt for the essentials he had always walked out with every morning: phone, keys, and wallet. He opened the front door to his apartment and nearly walked out when, suddenly, he felt a hesitation. He reached into his left pocket and pulled out his keys. The dull silver keys rested in the palm of his hand: the key to his car, the key to his bike lock, and the key to his apartment.
Guiding the apartment key through the key ring, Jay released it from its familiar home and tossed it into the living area. It skidded off the coffee table and landed somewhere out of sight. He paused then turned away and shut the door.
The long hallway stretched far into the distance. Jay’s apartment was located at the very end, opposite the stairwell. Although they were closer, the elevators were always hit-or-miss in their operation, so Jay decided on the stairs. The pot and ladle clanged, and objects in his bag shifted and slid as he trotted down the hall. As he neared the stairwell, apartment 1302’s door opened on Jay’s left.
Out stepped a short, middle-aged man with scruffy, raven-black hair holding a stuffed trash bag. He was a scraggly fella of average weight and build. Days of unbathed grime smattered on his clothes and skin complimented his messily shaved face and bulging eyes. He wore a loose-fitted tank top along with a pair of blue sweats; he was barefoot. As he scratched the side of his hip with his free hand, he caught wind of Jay’s presence and exclaimed with a small wave, “Mornin’, Jay!”
As Jay approached, he replied, “Hey-ey, mornin’, Jed.”
“Lil’ early to be headin’ to work isn’t it? Yer typically outta here by nine-ish.”
Jay was now standing opposite of Jed, keeping his distance from the potent stench. He took a second to quickly blink hard and wriggle his nose, steeling himself from the smell and, hopefully, masking his disgust.
“You’re not wrong,” said Jay. “I’m heading out of town until Convergence.”
Jed set the trash down by his feet, twiddled the tied end with his fingertips, and asked, “Work is givin’ ya the days off?”
Jay rolled his eyes and smirked, “Jed. It’s the end of the world buddy. I doubt my boss would care if I—or hell, anyone—showed up today or tomorrow or the day after until the end of time… which happens to be next week. Besides, I quit my job last week.”
“You what? But you were guaranteed that job for life!”
“Next week. Convergence. Remember?”
“Oh, come on,” Jed exaggerated. “You really believe that shit? Fifty bucks right now: you knock on my door next Friday and I’ll still be here, livin’ the dream.” He shot out his hand for a shake.
Reluctantly, Jay grasped it. The eccentric Jed always amused him, and he was willing to humor him one last time. “Eh, what is it that you did again?” Jed asked, still shaking Jay’s hand.
“You ask this every time we talk, I swear,” Jay replied, exasperated.
“Yeah, yeah, I know but, c’mon: do I look like the kinda guy with an elephant’s memory?”
Jay freed his hand. “I was the repair guy for the med equipment at the main campus of the Henry Ford Hospital.”
“Ah! That’s right! Well, you could probably fix this Convergence shit! Ha-ha!”
“Yeah, sure! I’ll tell ‘em to crank down their bolts to thirty-five newton meters,” Jay said as he made a ratcheting motion, “on their magic fix-a-ma-tron and that should do it!”
Jed laughed heartily, and Jay chuckled.
“It’s probably that easy, ain’t it?” Jed said after calming down. “Well, I’ve bothered ya enough. Ya have a good one!”
“Yeah, you too!” Jay replied as he gave Jed a small wave and watched as the man set the hefty trash bag in the hall and shut the door.
Jay made his way to the stairwell entrance and stepped through the large metal door. It slammed with an industrial thud that echoed down the chamber. Jay worked his way down the twelve flights of stairs. As each floor passed, his heart weighed heavy with anticipation and fear. Thoughts raced through his head to the point that his movements became autonomous. He pulled out his phone and checked the time: nine days until the end. He could hear his pulse in his ears. Before he realized it, he was facing the front entrance.
Through its all-glass structure, Jay could see the busy and shifting world waiting to consume him. He put his hand on the brass handle and gripped it tightly. In the stillness of his breath, his heart sank. The hesitation was more potent than ever. His hands began to grow clammy, and his mouth turned dry. A miasma of regret seeped into his mind, begging him to return to his cozy, familiar home thirteen stories above.
He closed his eyes and began to let go until he felt something. At the small of his back sat the urn, pressed against him. Its warm presence permeated through the canvas and enveloped his body. He opened his eyes, gripped the handle once more, and was pushed into the waning world.