When the World Ends
Part 1: Chapter 1
When the World Ends is a novel by Eduard F. Vinyamata
How long had he been waiting?
Seriously. He could hear Tintin’s opening credits from outside the screening room as he paced the theater’s red hallway carpet. His friend Luis had the tickets, but as usual, he hadn’t arrived yet.
Alex checked the time again and complained out loud. The ticket taker, a pale teenage guy, glanced at him.
Alex ignored him. He was seething. Missing the start of the movie was bad but what really angered him was that he’d waited for his friend Luis countless times before. So many, the minutes had added up to hours, and the hours to days.
He had first met Luis in high-school, over a decade ago. Alex had transferred from a school abroad, and he needed someone to help him catch up. Luis was the top student in the class, so the teacher sat them together. Had Alex been seated anywhere else he would have never become friends with Luis. They were just too different.
Alex used to be a tall and lanky teenager who enjoyed Magic: The Gathering and spent sleepless nights playing video games. A couple of days before exams he would program his Texas Instruments calculator with cheat sheets and hope for the best.
Luis had a strong athletic build from years of soccer and basketball practice. He spent sleepless nights studying to be the best in class. He made everything into a competition. Everything, but being on time.
Alex walked down the hallway towards the entrance hall, his steps muted by the cushioned carpet. He pulled his phone to text Luis he had had enough of waiting for him and that he was going back home to sleep. But then, Luis appeared on the other end of the hallway, trotting towards him.
Dressed in a green military-style jacket, a matching belt, and trendy sneakers, Luis was texting while balancing a cardboard bucket overflowing with popcorn. His hair was neatly sculpted in an upward swoosh. His face, shaved to perfection. His heavy perfume, overwhelming, even at a distance. Popcorn bucket notwithstanding, he looked better dressed to go party at any of Barcelona’s night clubs than to go watch a movie on a lazy holiday morning like today.
“Do you plan to go clubbing after the film?” Alex said.
Luis looked up at him and furrowed his brow. “What?”
Alex shook his head. “Let’s go,” he said, leading Luis to the screening room. “I’m sure you were perfectly on time, but something inescapable delayed you…”
“I had to buy popcorn,” Luis shrugged. “By the way, you have to buy new jeans. Did you steal your dad’s?” he grinned and chomped on a popcorn kernel.
“I accept your apology, Luis. Let’s just go inside, and you’re buying lunch afterward.”
The ticket taker was leaning next to the screening room’s door. A sheen of sweat gleamed on the kid’s pale forehead. Alex considered asking him if he was feeling ok but thought better of it. If was feeling sick he probably just wanted them to get inside as soon as possible so he could leave.
Alex smiled at the kid, walked past him and pointed at Luis. “He has my ticket.”
The screening room was barely wider than the hallway outside and much shorter. Only about fifteen rows of seats separated Alex from the screen. The seats were divided by a center corridor so that no matter where you sat, you always got the feeling you were on the side of the disappointing small screen.
At least the cinema was almost empty — maybe twenty people, peppered all over the place, in a room that would seat a hundred twenty.
Thunder rumbled over the speaker system. On the screen, Tintin and Snowy were researching in a library as lightning flashed behind the stained glass windows.
Just a couple rows away, a kid was sobbing in-between a couple failing to soothe him.
Luis walked in and looked around. “Let’s sit in there,” he said, looking towards the sobbing kid but pointing to the opposite side of the cinema. Alex walked to a row of four seats and sat one space away from a woman sitting by the wall. Luis sat next to him by the corridor.
Tintin was now being chased by a huge Rottweiler and the kid at the other end of the cinema went from sobbing to crying. People started hushing, including Luis, who swore something under his breath. The kid’s parents grabbed him and stumbled out of the cinema.
A minute later, a man in the front row stood up and left as well. He seemed drunk.
Shortly after, two more persons left. They almost tripped at the corridor.
People started whispering.
“What’s going on?” Luis said. “Why are people leaving? Why won’t they shut up?”
“Excuse me,” the woman who had been sitting by the wall said to Alex. Her voice was so thin Alex had barely heard her. She was leaning on the seat next to him. “I’m feeling sick. I need to — ”
The woman retched. Alex jumped off his seat. Luis stood up.
She vomited on the seat next to Alex.
He avoided touching her, moved farther away, but managed to say “Don’t worry. Let it all out.” He then looked at Luis with a face of disgust. Luis was transfixed on the woman.
Done vomiting, she seemed to relax, slipping down on the floor and becoming completely still. Alex fought his disgust and tried to help her up, but he could barely see her in the darkness. “Are you OK?” he said.
If she replied, Alex couldn’t hear it over the music and the gunshots from Tintin’s action sequence. Hesitating, he rocked the woman’s shoulder. She felt limp.
In a flash of light from the movie, he saw she was leaning face-down against the seat and on her own vomit.
A shiver ran from the back of his neck to the pit of his stomach.
“Luis,” he said, fumbling with his phone. His hands were shaking and almost useless. “Something’s really wrong. Go get help. Right now.”
Luis didn’t answer.
“Luis, what the fuck, we need help!” Adrenaline was kicking in.
Alex looked at him. Luis’ lips moved, but made no sound. He seemed paralyzed, staring ahead.
Several people were vomiting on their seats and by the corridor. A man staggering to the exit slipped on the wet floor and stayed down, spasming. A little girl sat on her oversized cinema seat, head cocked, eyes and mouth wide open. Dark drool trickled down the corner of her lips.
Alex swallowed, and his vision blurred with panic. He stood still, legs shaking but frozen in place. The little girl’s dead eyes glimmered and stared at him.
He looked away and took in a deep, slow breath.
The stench of vomit, shit and pee bent him over, gagging.
“Alex!” Luis said, covering his mouth with his hand.
Alex shook his head. “I’m OK. It’s the smell,” he said in between coughs. “Let’s get out of here.”
Luis led the way, swearing and sobbing. He pushed the entrance door, but it barely bulged. He pushed again, this time using his whole body. The door opened enough for him and Alex to escape.
A bunch of bodies had been blocking the door. Among them, the teenage kid who had taken their tickets only minutes before. His eyes were bloodshot and motionless.
Luis stumbled away. “Help!” he cried towards the entrance hall. Alex followed him. People lay on the floor around them… some face-down in their vomit and feces, perhaps dead, while others were still alive but spasming.
By the entrance, at least a hundred people were bent over tables, seats or counters. Piles of them had fallen near the exit doors. A baby sat in his stroller, his head down and his little arms hanging limp at his sides as if he were a rag doll. His mom lay face down next to the stroller, still clenching it with one hand. With the other, she was clutching her phone.
“Wait. Hold on,” Alex said, remembering he had his phone in his hand. He unlocked it with a swipe and dialed 112.
What to say when they picked up? Everyone is dead?
What if he and Luis died too before help arrived?
Luis scrabbled at his jacket as Alex got a first dial tone.
And then a second. By the third dial tone Luis had pulled out his phone, and he was calling too.
“They’re not picking up,” Alex said on the fourth dial tone.
An answering machine kicked in after the fifth tone. An elegant, collected mail voice informed him all agents were busy and that his call was on hold.
“Answering machine,” Alex said.
Nobody was picking up. Impossible. Alex’s gut tensed as if he had been punched, his head swimming.
“I got the answering machine too,” Luis said, his voice breaking. He ran his fingers through his hair, ruining his hairdo. His eyes jumped all over the place. “We’re gonna die,” he gasped, and he leaned on his knees.
“We have to get out of here, we’ll find help outside.” Alex helped him up. “Let’s go!”
Luis gave him a silent nod and leaning on each other, they staggered out of the theater.
The mall was one floor high and one underground. It was built around a wide glass tube with a transparent elevator inside. Stairs and escalators crisscrossed each other next to the elevator and under large glass windows on the ceiling above. Natural light made it to the underground floor, where the cinemas were, through this central hub.
They were the only ones standing in the mall. Everyone else was reduced to heaps of clothes and contorted limbs on the marbled floors.
Letting go of each other, they stepped on the escalator going up to the street level. Alex leaned on the stairway, feeling worst by the minute. Luis climbed a couple steps ahead. “Oh, no,” he said.
Alex looked towards the floor above. A woman lay at the top of the stairs, blocking them. She must have fallen on her way up, and now her head was a bloody mess that was getting closer and closer. Alex clenched his jaw and looked away. He couldn’t, however, avoid hearing the buzz and tearing sound as each step of the escalator caught, pulled and ripped free clumps of blonde hair, scalp and skin off the woman.
Alex made a shushing sound trying to block the escalator’s noise. He jumped over the woman’s body, trying not to step on her and avoiding looking at the mangled face next to his shoes.
Outside was a mess of dead people. Cars had stopped in the middle of the road and even on the sidewalk, some with bodies underneath them. Horns and alarms hollered. Nothing moved but for clouds of smoke in the distance and a black Labrador whimpering next to a corpse. The dog licked vomit off his dead owner’s face.
Alex dropped to his knees, stomach throbbing.
It was coming.
He could feel it. He was about to vomit.
He knew what happened after.
His vision darkened and tunneled.
It was over. He was done.
His mind raced back to the people he loved, but he found no solace there.
He gave up. His reptilian brain took over. He wasn’t directing his thoughts anymore. He was just observing his own death as he gasped for air.
He would die now like everyone else.
But not everyone is dead.
He became conscious of Luis’ voice, muffled, as if far in the distance, yelling at him. He realized Luis had grabbed him by the shoulders and was shaking him violently.
Luis let out a wail.
He retched again. This time, vomit splattered the pavement and his hands. It was warm and yellow.
Anger banished his fear. Anger at all the time he had lost. At all the time he had waited.
Alex clutched the ground but his arms collapsed and the pavement rushed to meet his face.
How long had he been waiting?
So many hours he was sure they added up to days.
Read the next chapter here.
Eduard F. Vinyamata is a Catalan writer in development. He was made in Barcelona and educated in the US. He lives with his dog Trutx, who is a big time foodie like him. Eduard is a traveler, a bon vivant, a geek and taller than you.