The Earth Will Swallow You by Daniel Wessler Riordan 

Page 4 of 4

Bernie wanted to stop Jim. Ray had several inches and more than a few pounds on Jim and things could only turn out poorly for him if he were to actually reach Ray. Bernie made a move like he was going to make a move, but then Millie rushed after Jim, bawling, so Bernie decided it perhaps best not to get involved. And before Jim could reach Ray, Millie tackled Jim, jumping on his back and wrestling him to the ground. "You stay away from them," she said. "This is your fault, not theirs. If you'd ever sleep with me anymore, I wouldn't have to look elsewhere."

The hole was a vortex then, a tornado in the ground. The neighbors were still unaware of it, too busy being entertained by Jim and Bernie and Millie and the unbelievable performance they were mounting.

"You whore of Babylon," Jim said, turning and slithering and shedding himself of Millie. He was up, then, but she was still on her knees, and he slapped her, right there, in front of everyone. Muffled gasps. The crack of his hand across her cheek died in echo across the neighborhood and for a moment the only sound anyone could hear was an odd breeze whistling somewhere in the periphery.

Ray saw Jim getting physical with Millie and decided to jump into the fray. "You can't do that, motherfucker. You can't touch her like that. I'm going to fucking kill you." Someone should play peacemaker, Bernie thought, or things are going to get ugly. He started shifting his weight, readying again his initiative, but was beat to the punch by his wife, Sara, everyone's favorite heroine.

Sara leapt into the fray and positioned herself between the two heaving testosterone pumps, holding up her palms like riot shields. "Now hold on a minute, guys," she insisted. "Let's talk about this." A sigh came in a wave over the neighbors. Everyone knew that with Sara's steady hand involved, violence might be stayed. The air of disappointment was palpable. Thankfully for the neighbors, Ray forced his agenda.

Ray pushed Sara aside, flinging her to the ground, and went right for Jim's throat.

Now wait a fucking second, Bernie thought to himself. You can't do that to Sara. That's my goddamned wife. But then Chip, the assumed serial killer, must have felt similarly, because after Ray knocked Sara down, Chip just flew out of nowhere, vaulting himself off of a picnic tabletop and high into the air, and as he sailed downward, he took a giant swing at Ray, knocking him out with one punch. Chip knelt low and gently extended his hand to Sara, the gallant knight having slain the beast. Sara stood and embraced Chip, kissed him, and not in a way that seemed like she was just being appreciative. It was obvious to Bernie that they'd practiced this kind of thing with one another before. The kiss lingered, there, right in front of Bernie, right in front of the neighbors.

Now, seriously, wait a fucking second, Bernie thought again, but then Jim swung at Chip, for Lord only knows what reason—maybe he was defending Bernie's honor or maybe he was striking a blow against sinners everywhere or maybe he was just so full of seething rage that he needed to hit someone and at that point he didn't care who—and Chip stumbled backward and then someone else swung at Jim and then Ronda got involved and then neighbors gave half-hearted efforts to pull neighbors apart and each one just toppled over the other, getting soaked up like water to a sponge, an amalgamated part of a rolling tumbleweed.

The hole in the ground tore wide open.

Neighbors tackled neighbors, falling down and flailing, swinging at one another the best they knew how. They punched and kicked and threw bowls of cold pasta salad and hard glass jars of condiments—those flying objects that missed their intended targets simply careened headlong into the vortex. Teeth gnashed, blood spilled, the orgy of violence gave a monolithic howl. Even the children got involved: boys' hands yanking bowed hair; girls' hands twisting tiny testicles.

The vortex blasted and bellowed, wide as a swimming pool. It inhaled. The neighbors went down, one after the other, some still locked in a fighting embrace. People cried. People screamed.

"The Great Tribulation is upon us!" Jim proclaimed as he found a tree to cling to. Jim supposed that these people had all deserved this. It had only been a matter of time. He took comfort in knowing he was Saved. And yet there he was, arms clutching a tree trunk, legs flapping in the breeze like a windsock, the hole still beckoning. Jim didn't understand. "Lord, please, don't you recognize me?" he pleaded. Jim's grip would soon falter and down the hole he would go, just like the rest of them.

And right before Jim's end would be Millie's, who thought of little as she went down, other than that she really hoped Jim had been dead on about the existence of God and the afterlife. At about the same time went Ray and Ronda. The two always liked to do things together, and so a partnership in death made some sort of sense to them and they held hands as they cycled away. Chip and his lady friend went in pedestrian fashion, unremarkably as the rest, which would've no doubt bothered them to no end.

Lawn chairs and picnic tables went up and over and toppled and circled, like so much debris being flushed down a drain. Basketball hoops and bird feeders and bikes would follow. Cars in the driveway started to quake and fidget and move. Fresh green sod and newly sunk plants came free at the root, snatched up and siphoned away and downward. The shutters tore off houses. The clouds unified and the sky turned black. The birds and the worms hid. The vortex could not to be satisfied. All the homes and worldly possessions of every neighbor would soon be gone, sucked in.

Bernie and Sara and the boy were among the last of them. Bernie had made it inside through the backdoor and had gotten as far as the hallway before being caught up in the furious wind. Sara and the boy had been just behind him. Bernie, for once in his life, had fought the good fight, not giving up, holding fast to one of the metal kitchen chairs turned sideways as it stuck in the gap where the back door had once been. Bernie clung to Sara's hand and Sara clung to her eldest son's. The other two children were already lost or gone, Perhaps escaped, Bernie allowed himself to hope. The eldest child let out a shriek of terror. His big black eyes paralyzed, staring at his mother's hand.

"Sara," Bernie called out. "Sara, let go of the boy. Let him go. I can't hold both of you."

Sara looked down at the boy and then back at Bernie.

"I can't," she said above all the catastrophic noise. "I can't let him go."

Objects from the kitchen flew by them, the teapot, the toaster, cabinet doors and hinges. "It's ok," Bernie said. "It's ok."

"I'm sorry, Bernie," Sara said. "I'm sorry for everything."

Bernie looked at Sara, trying to memorize her every small detail. He had so much to say to her. He wanted desperately to apologize for all the things that he'd done, but mostly for the things he'd failed to do, for her to know his love for her, for her to know him, here at this final moment.

"Sara?" he said. And then Sara let go of Bernie.

The kitchen chair bent inward and the doorframe gave way.

~ Originally Published In Indiana Review, Issue 34.2 ~


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