[This story is also available in the collection, It's Always the Apocalypse Somewhere]
I woke up with a gasp, rising into a seated position, the covers dropping into my lap. The image in my mind remained crystal clear—a series of numbers. A dream. A prophetic dream. I'd never had this sort of dream before; there was no reason to assume that this was one either, except for the absolute certitude with which I felt it to be so. Knew it.
I scrambled from bed, found a notebook, and flipped to an empty page. I scattered stuff across my desk, tossing things out of the way, onto the floor, until I found a pen. It didn't write at first and I panicked, sensing the dream begin to recede as dreams do, like a plug had been pulled and the contents of the vision were circling down some cosmic psychic dream-drain. At last, after scratching furiously at the top of the page, the ink began flowing. It never felt so good to see red ink!
Hastily, I scribbled down the information from my dream before it could evaporate into the psychic aether. When it was done, and I'd successfully copied all that I remembered, I leaned back, weary. With a sigh, I tossed down the pen, and picked up the notebook.
Reading back what I had written, I thought: This is it. This is my key to the future I've always wanted. It was about time.
Shit, what time was it? I glanced at my alarm clock and paused. That's odd. The display was blank. I walked over to the clock, picked it up. Fiddled with the buttons. Nothing. I leaned over, peered behind the dresser. It was still plugged in. So that meant—
I swept my hand across the light switch. Nothing.
Great, no power. What was going on? I grabbed my phone to check the time. I'd better get going, just in case.
As soon as I turned my phone on, an obnoxious alarm began blaring. I nearly dropped the phone in shock. I pressed the display, but the terrible bleating wouldn't stop. The volume control had no effect.
"This is not a test," said a robotic male voice. "All citizens should remain indoors. This is not a test. Those living near major population centers are most at risk. Seek shelter indoors. Preferably in a certified bomb- and fallout-proof structure. Repeat. This is not a test. This is a real attack."
I dropped the phone. If anyone could have seen me, I bet my mouth was hanging open the way they draw characters in cartoons: jaw on the floor by my feet, and me, bending down to scoop it up and put it back in place there on my face. Except no one could see me; I was alone. Eventually, I bent down and picked up my phone.
The grating warning alarm was going again.
But this was supposed to be my day, I thought, miserably. The notebook where I had written down my prophetic dream numbers lay on my bed. I picked it up now. Damn it, nothing's going to stop me from making this happen. This is going to change my life. Carrying my phone and the notebook, I hurried through my house to the garage.
Standing there, staring at my car in the closed garage, I swore. The power was out. After five minutes of struggle and strain, I manually lifted my garage door and managed to keep it up so that I could pull my car out.
The same blaring emergency warning was on the radio. I swept through the stations until I found one playing some other programming. Christian Talk Radio.
"I just don't understand it," the man on the air was saying. "I'm a good Christian. I always did the best I could. How could I have been left behind?"
"I'm right there with you, caller," said the host of the show. "Clearly, Our Lord has made some sort of clerical error. After all, there are hundreds of millions of Christians in the world. It's to be expected. A mis-filed soul here or there. He'll straighten it out. Or perhaps, this was simply the first round of the Rapture. The first of many Raptures, if you will."
"Maybe you're right . . ."
Christ! What the hell were they talking about? The Rapture? On the same day that a nuclear war breaks out? What the hell was going on?
I pulled out my phone—the annoying warning still blaring—and managed to get into the menu so that I could make a call. My mother was a Christian. If there was some sort of Rapture going on, she'd know about it. Or, maybe—
The phone rang and rang.
Maybe she wasn't nearby to pick up. C'mon, the Rapture? That was fairy tale stuff. I mean, she was probably just in the shower or outside or something. Or had her ringer off, or—
Too late, I slammed on the brakes. A loud thud, and a body bounced across the front of my car, rebounded off the front windshield and flipped over the car, to the ground behind me. I sat there, foot on the brake, the car and I both breathing heavily. Steam was shooting from the crumpled front end. The window was a web of cracked glass.
Jesus! I'd hit someone.
Not today, I thought. Why today? I looked at the notebook with the scribbled numbers, and then shifted into park and stepped out of my car.
The man I'd hit, looking pretty ragged and ill, was trying to get up.
"Oh, good," I said, "you're okay. I'm really sorry. It's just, you know —the nukes, the Rapture, and whatnot."
He groaned, regained his feet, and took a step towards me. He seemed dazed and unsteady.
"You sure you're okay?"
He groaned again. Shuffled towards me. Just over his shoulder, I saw another person approaching. Great, I thought, a witness. Now we'll have to stand here and all of us exchange info.
The man groaned again. There was a similar moaning answer from the other side of my car. I glanced over. Another person, a woman, looking as though she'd also been run over by something, was shuffling towards me.
"I didn't hit you," I told her. "I'm sure I only hit this guy here."
I jerked back. The guy whom I'd crashed into was snapping his teeth at me, trying to take a bite.
"What the hell, buddy?" I shoved him down and retreated back into my car, slammed shut the door. The man's hands pressed on my window. The woman on the opposite side banged her arms against my car, too. I could see the other person, whom I assumed earlier to be a witness, coming closer. The same shuffling gait, the same ragged appearance.
Oh, God. I know what this is, I thought. I shifted into drive, sent the gas pedal to the floor. My car shook and protested and then squealed away down the street, steam billowing from under the hood.
Not zombies. Couldn't be zombies. Zombies aren't freaking real. This is probably just an insurance scam. Guy probably threw himself in front of me, and the others were going to act as witnesses for him in court.
I sped on towards my destiny. Nothing else was going to get in my way.
Traffic grew worse as I approached downtown.
At one point, I had to swerve into the opposite lane to go around four clowns on horseback, standing right there in the middle of the God-damned road. I mean, not literal clowns. These guys were actually all pretty gnarly-looking and grim. Although two of them looked rather sickly, a dark miasma of despair and danger seemed to hang about the four riders; they weren't anyone I wanted to mess with.
I was thankful when they were well in my rearview.
I drove on; I was on a mission to change my life. I patted the notebook on the seat beside me. But would I make it in time? Surely, the universe was throwing all of these varied obstacles at me as a way to test my worthiness. I grinned madly. Bring it on universe.
The clock display in my car had gone all weird. Probably broke something when I hit that guy—or rather, when that guy jumped in front of my car. My phone was stuck on the weather forecast screen, but all the information was mixed up and incorrect. It was claiming the temperature for each of the next five days would be 666, and although I suppose that the little weather icon was meant to be the one for Sunny, it looked more like an all-consuming hellfire. My phone display was admittedly small though, and it was hard to tell. Probably just Sunny.
Eventually, the traffic jam was so bad, I came up against stopped cars and trucks blocking the entire road. In the distance, I could see the glimmering, spinning sign of my destination. I was so close now. I didn't have time for this.
Shutting off my car, which shuddered and creaked in relief, I exited the vehicle, notebook tucked under my arm, and ran to the sidewalk. There was a huge mob of people already moving in the direction I was going, so I joined the procession and let them carry me along with their momentum.
They were moving awfully quickly, I thought, glancing around at several of the scared, fear-filled faces. What if they were all heading to the same place I was?
I needed to get there first. I began pushing and struggling, trying to force my way through the press. I was making very little progress. In fact, the push from behind me seemed to lift me up like the swell of a great wave and carried me forward. I swung my head around in an effort to figure out what was going on.
Then I saw it.
Behind me, coming down from the clouds above the mass of people: some sort of strange flying craft. I don't want to be hasty and say it was a UFO (although technically, that's what it was, I suppose—unidentified, at least by me), or that it was piloted by aliens—there was no way to verify or disprove the idea—but it was certainly made to resemble what any reasonable person would describe as the stereotypical flying saucer.
But there wasn't time to ponder the source of the craft or the species at the controls. A ray of green light flashed from the bottom of the ship, striking a portion of the crowd a few yards away from me. They were instantly turned to charred, smoking skeletons, and apparently reduced to fine dust which then blew apart, scattering into a cloud of former humanity.
The panicked crowd crescendoed into a state of mindless freak out. Clawing, punching, fighting to get away from the death ray hovering above us, we turned into a crazed mass of roiling, frenzied fear-driven individuals.
At some point, I was knocked to the ground.
I was certain I'd be crushed, but a blast of that green death ray saved my life by disintegrating many of people nearest to me. I struggled to my feet, still clutching my notebook, spitting out with disgust the dust of the pulverized men and women struck by the death ray—dust which invaded my mouth and tickled the back of my throat.
After that, I was able to fight my way pretty quickly through the chaos of the fleeing, disorganized people, and continue towards my goal. It was within sight, and thankfully seemed to be undamaged. The street grew strangely quiet and barren, as the bulk of the crazed mob dispersed in every direction. The death ray continued to fire down upon those unfortunate souls whom couldn't escape.
Notebook in hand, I crossed one final road, which was strewn with the fiery wreckage of dozens of vehicles, and coated in a fine powder that I knew to be the remnants of all of my fellow—(former)—neighbors and citizens.
Just before I pulled open the door that I had sought since I left my house, I saw on the distant horizon to the west, a brilliant flash of light. It was followed by the slowly building, billowing formation of a perfect blooming mushroom cloud.
I spared just a second to watch it grow—it was set against a sky suddenly transformed to the staggering colors of a brilliant sunset, one of the most beautiful I'd ever seen if one could forget the horror of the thing—then I pulled open the door, and stepped across the threshold to take hold of my destined future.
I rushed forward to the counter and the waiting cashier. There was no one queued up ahead of me. It was meant to be.
I slammed my notebook down on the counter, making the cashier flinch, and then I grinned wide.
"I'll take one ticket for tonight's Mega Super Millionaire Lottery drawing!" I slid my notebook around, so that the cashier could see what I'd written. "I want to play these numbers, right here."
The cashier looked briefly at my notebook, then up at me. He shook his head. "No can do, friend."
"What! Why not? Is the power off here, too?" I glanced around, but all the lights seemed to be blazing, the hot dogs still rotating on the roller. "You have power."
The cashier nodded.
"Is it the nuclear war? Has the lottery been called off because the government needs all available funds to fight World War Three?"
"No, the drawing hasn't been cancelled."
"Then it's the Rapture. It's the Rapture, isn't it? All the lottery officials have been swept up into the loving embrace of the Almighty Lord Himself. That's it, isn't it?"
"Then it's the zombies."
"There are zombies out there?"
I slammed a fist on the counter. "The aliens! Of course, it's the aliens. They've taken over our planet, and they're trying to teach and guide us and better our society, and so they're stripping away vices like lottery games. Oh, God, the aliens are communists! They don't give away cash prizes, do they?"
"No," the cashier said, "the planet's still in our control, last I checked. The lottery still pays out . . . let's see"—he glanced down at some papers near the ticket machine—"three-hundred seventy-five million dollars."
"Then, what?" I cried. "Why won't you sell me a ticket?" I fished in my pocket, pulled out a wad of crumpled up bills. "Look, see. I've got the money. Here, quick, ring it up."
"I can't," the cashier said again, shaking his head.
"Because," he said, pointing to the side of the lottery machine. The time was displayed there in green, digital numbers. Oh, God. I felt faint. My knees were buckling. "It's too late. The drawing just happened."
"Just happened?" I said, dazed.
"Here," said the cashier. He pressed a few buttons and the machine spit out a ticket. "Here are the numbers they just drew."
He placed the readout on the counter beside my notebook. We both leaned in, comparing my numbers to those on the ticket that had printed.
I felt myself slipping down the counter.
I landed on the ground, head spinning.
They were the same.
The numbers. I had them. Consciousness seeped out of me. I had the winning numbers
The winning numbers.
The winning numbers . . .
". . . ning numbers."
With a start I jerked awake.
What the hell?
I was sitting up in my bed, covers lying across my lap. Some crazy dream, I thought, shaking my head. I could feel it disappearing to wherever it is dreams go, even as I tried to hold onto it. The dream transformed to sand, slipped away between my fingers.
And was gone.
I glanced at my alarm clock; the time was displayed there in bright red digitals. It was time to get up. Get showered, and get to the gas station. Another day, I thought, pulling aside the covers.
Just another day, working for minimum wage.
This story was written in response to a writing prompt posted at r/WritingPrompts:
[WP]Aliens are invading! Coincidentally, the dead are rising. And its the Rapture. And the completely unrelated Apocalypse. All during a Nuclear War.