The Fifth Day

by Gordon Bonnet

Portents of evil. Dreams of destruction, chaos, death. Feelings of terrible foreboding, heavy as the dark skies before a storm hits.

Within twenty-four hours, the sudden and nearly universal presentiment of doom experienced by folks in the peaceful beach town of Furness, California is found to be horrifyingly accurate when a handful of people wake up to find that their friends, families, and loved ones—in fact, most of the inhabitants of the Earth—have simultaneously vanished without a trace.

Left behind to make sense of a strange and depopulated world are an odd assortment of people. A wry and jaded psychic who knows good and well that her fortunetelling is a sham—until the day it begins to come true. A kind, idealistic registered nurse. A thirteen-year-old science nerd. A church custodian. An outspoken, pragmatic physicist. A volatile and unpredictable bakery owner. A tough-as-nails ex-Army man with a terrible secret, who is determined that he'll survive this, even if it's at the cost of the others.

But they soon discover that they're not the only ones trying to find their way through the empty streets of Furness. Because the cataclysm that took 99% of the Earth's inhabitants did one other thing.

It released the monsters.

Excerpt:

The first card Zolzaya Dubrovna flipped over was Death.

Her client’s eyes widened. Zolzaya herself winced, and had a couple of thoughts that used language unbecoming of a Wise Woman From Bulgaria, and a vocabulary much more consistent with the kind she’d used up until six months ago, when she had been Caroline Loeffler From Oxnard. With an effort, she forced her face into a passable impression of calm insight. She gave a gentle and knowing smile to the client, a worried-looking forty-something named Bonnie, and patted her hand, making her many bracelets jingle.

“Don’t worry, my dear. The meaning of Death in the Tarot usually doesn’t mean actual, physical death.”

“Usually?” Bonnie’s voice was a squeak.

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“I should amend that to ‘almost never.’ It means change. The abandonment of old ways of doing things. Sometimes the card Death isn’t even negative, despite the imagery. It signifies power, your ability to control change. It can mean taking charge, a shift catalyzed by abandoning something that was holding you back.”

Bonnie's face relaxed. “Is there a card that does mean death? Like real death? Like dead?”

Zolzaya gave her a knowing nod. “Yes, there is. In certain configurations, the Nine of Swords can mean death.”

“Oh. Okay.”

The next card Zolzaya turned over was the Nine of Swords.

“Shit,” she said, under her breath.

She hated it when the cards came up bad. It made the clients anxious, and almost certainly guaranteed that she wouldn’t receive a tip. Sometimes it was possible simply to lie about what the cards said—very few of the clients knew anything about the meaning of the Tarot, and even those who did could be bamboozled by some fast talking about what the cards meant in certain circumstances, in certain positions, or in relation to other cards.

It was hard to see what she could do to redeem this one, though. It was her own fault, opening up her big mouth about the Nine of Swords. And there it sat, large as life, with its terrifying image of a person sitting up in bed with his hands over his face, and behind his figure a jet-black background with a row of nine swords.

“Does this mean that I’m going to die?” Bonnie’s voice was tremulous.

“No, no. I said the Nine of Swords can mean death. Together with the Death card, it… it doesn’t mean death.”

Bonnie’s expression gradually shifted from horrified to doubtful. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“You cannot take literally the message of the Tarot. The reading of the Major and Minor Arcana means more than simply reading a list of interpretations from a book. One has to see the big picture, put together the message that the cards are developing via the mystical connection between the client, the reader, and the universe, and then verbalize that.”

“So you’re saying that the Nine of Swords means death except when you say it doesn’t.”

“Now, I wouldn’t say it that way, I mean that the cards—”

“In other words, you’re making it all up.”

Zolzaya bristled, not because the woman was wrong, but because not to would have looked like acquiescence.

COLLAPSE

About the Author

I write speculative fiction -- my stories center around changing one or two of the rules and seeing what happens.  What if myths were based on something real?  What if there was a place that kept track of every possible outcome for every decision made by every human on Earth?  What if there was a universal junkyard -- where all the lost things go, including lost people?

My novels take perfectly ordinary people and place them in completely extraordinary circumstances.  I not only ask, "What if...?", I ask, "What if it happened to you?"


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