Freeze Frame

by Paul de Denus

The world ends on Saturday evening as Clayton Dill dances and weaves on silver sand, a glass of red in one hand and a cool brunette in the other. I am chuckling at his nonsense, eyeballing Laura Lang, Clayton's tightly held girlfriend when the block of frigid air drops and plunges the sunset atmosphere into a deep freeze, the sky dimming deep ultramarine as the red ball falls over the horizon.


Beach goers who have clustered along the water's edge to enjoy fine wine and light conversation stumble about, their stunned bodies stiffening as if hit by ice-blue electricity - some look to the water… others to the sun's last slash of gold glimmering along the rim… then to each other as shoulders hug and shiver and I hear Clayton drunkenly say, “for fuk-say, sum-one turn on the heat” but I am already down, driven to one knee as the startling slap of Siberian-like cold wraps my body in an icepack. Laura Lang grabs wildly for my arm, her brown eyes confused, her fuck-me smile disappearing in panic and she collapses near Clayton who stares quizzically at the people staggering from the beach.


Legs shaky and unsure, I stand and lurch like a toddler, aim for the access ramp into the parking lot, the hazed light receding in diminishing shades with each passing second; only one thought forms clear: the sun has gone out.


My teeth ache from the cold and I nearly pass out as I fumble with the car keys, my hands like frozen rubber, the white chill touching hot marrow. The fading light turns blue velvet as a cold molasses coats my skin, the weight of it pushing me down and I scramble to hold back panic wondering if I'm having a heart attack.


My limbs are numb. My arms and legs swim in slow motion in semi-darkness… a darkness that feels alive and lures like a child's voice in a well and I want to go down the well into the dark where the voice - now spoiled and bleak - echoes: the sun has extinguishedcome to me… but I hold my concentration - thin as it is, fragile as loose cobwebs - and I shiver and speed through indigo streets, disbelief on the faces I skim by, their feet slogging as if encased in cement, their bodies dimming as the remaining light of day slowly winks out. Above, birds - heavy as bricks - plummet from the blackened sky onto the tar dark streets.





Staggering inside my front door, I paw at the hallway switch. The room illuminates and I feel better almost immediately as if a light has flicked on inside my body and I move freely then, lurching into every room as my limbs warm and my brain defrosts. I turn on every beautiful light, wonder how long the electricity will last.


In the kitchen, the window over the sink hisses like air escaping from a tire and a memory from childhood lights in my head:  bouncing inside an inflatable fun house… the structure suddenly loses air and I sink down… into cascading cold plastic waves… deep and overwhelming… I grasp at smooth walls… the dark roof descends. Whipping the curtain across the hissing window, I scramble into every room, pull the drapes and shutters fast on the rest of the gaping black mouths that now shriek and howl.


Searching the bureaus and closets, I find two working flashlights, a scattering of batteries - old and new - a half tray of eleven-inch taper candles, several matchbooks; in my bedside drawer, my handgun. I punch on the television, only to be greeted with pure static, white snow on every channel and I jump when my cell phone rings — just the once - but there's no one there, only the darkness of dead air.


There is a fleeting second - only a moment - to ponder that someone did something crazy… a terrorist plot… a government mistake… some asshole flicked the wrong switch, pressed the wrong button… and then a simpler thought; this is only the nature of things.


I stoke the kindling in the fireplace and let out a child-like cry when it offers an encouraging flame and after several dry logs catch on, I tear madly into the furniture around the room.





According to the battery clock on the wall, it's after nine in the morning and the sun should be up but it's not.


It is beyond dark outside. I don't have to look. Through the numbness I feel it. The house is ice and I hear the outside skin cracking, falling. I have no power. The living room windows bulge, the drapes push inward and I wonder if I'm imagining it or if it's my alcohol consumption happily taking control of things. Wrapped in cold comfort, I drift but stay awake — why I don't know — I should just let sleep take me but I don't and I'm crying again… calling for anyone… but there's no one home… no one anywhere.


I can't get my head around what has happened and I slip into a tearful giggle. My head feels swollen, my numb hands in bent claws and I imagine myself T-Rex with the same damn look on its swollen face when the world disintegrated around him.


The fire dwindles in fleeting sparks, the light all but gone. It's a lost cause as the dark comfortably moves in for good and I fondle the handgun and yawn. Laura Lang leans in next to me and I pull her close - the handgun too - and force a frozen smile knowing the flash in her brown eyes will be the last light of this world I'll ever see.