When the End of the World Gets Really Weird
“This is ridiculous,” a man behind me grumbled.
I kept my eyes forward, not wanting to be associated with him. The idiot kept talking.
“I mean, he’s a kid that can’t even talk. How is it he has all the power?”
Someone shushed the man, and he started muttering under his breath.
It’s not that I didn’t agree with the guy, but if the Kid, as the man had called our new God, heard him, we’d all die. Unless the Kid was in a good mood, then we’d all get tickled until we wet our pants or something.
A woman looked over her shoulder at me. “How did our world come to this?”
I shook my head. No one knew, and speculating only wasted time that none of us had. By now my family would only be days away from starving, but if the Kid liked my gift, then we’d have food for the rest of our lives. I cinched up my grip on the old recyclable bag dangling from my fingers, and prayed to the God I used to worship that the Kid would like it.
The man behind me continued to mumble, until I heard a thunk and then a thud. A quick glance told me someone had knocked him out and the guards dragged him away. I found the woman who was responsible—hard to miss the giant staff she had—and gave her a nod.
She nodded back.
It’s like we were best friends.
A tall, heavy door creaked open.
“Next!” a guard shouted.
The line shuffled forward, and the man before the woman ahead of me squared his shoulders and walked from the dingy hallway of an old office building into what I knew was a small auditorium that could hold a hundred people or so.
We waited. I ignored the smell of someone’s fear trickling down their leg. Instead of despairing, I thought of my daughter. If I didn’t have to give a gift to the Kid, it would go to her.
Not that anyone needed what I had. In fact, it was wildly impractical. But, the Kid had fickle taste, and a strange sense of humor on his good days, and if this was one of those days, then I would be in.
I just needed enough food to last the spring. We had seeds to grow in the summer, but I knew we wouldn’t last that long. I hadn’t eaten in three days. My wife, probably more.
A scream came from beyond the door.
The woman in front of me shifted.
A few minutes later the door opened and the guard said, “Next!”
The woman straightened and entered.
I walked forward to take her place, and caught a glimpse of the man who had gone before her, being dragged out the far door, a smear of blood in his wake. I tried to get a glimpse of the Kid, but the door closed too fast.
Whatever had happened to our world had left us a mere husk of what we’d once been. Magic had taken us by surprise, and had decided children would wield it. Children with disabilities, to be precise. The Kid had severe autism, and could call on power that I’d seen pull down sky scrapers and change the weather. Anything could cause a mood swing, from the color red to someone’s hair being too long to the texture of their jacket.
I knew, because I’d had an autistic daughter before this had all started. Her biggest trigger had been the sound of footsteps on a hard surface, but anything could set her off.
The power had come to her, and consumed her. Along with our house and a nurse. Lucky for us, we’d been grabbing dinner at the time.
It still caused an ache inside when I thought about it, and a tear gathered in the corner of one eye. I hadn’t been there for my little girl, and even though I knew I couldn’t have done anything about it, I still felt it was my biggest failure in this life.
The door before me creaked open.
“Next,” the guard said.
I jumped. My heart was racing, and my hands shaking. I shouldn’t have been thinking about her.
“You coming?” the guard asked.
I lunged forward, afraid I’d miss my chance. He gave me a disdainful look before he shut the door behind me.
I hadn’t heard the woman scream. Maybe that was a good sign.
“Approach,” another guard said.
The room fell away from me, and I focused on the Kid. He was skinny, blond, and filthy. He sat naked within a ring of toys, absently poking an old iPad. It had been almost a year since I’d seen him, and he’d gotten taller, but it seemed his intellect had stayed where it had always been.
It was now or never. I walked forward, got to the line, went down on one knee and bowed. “I have a present for you.”
The Kid glanced up.
I pulled the little toy out of my bag. I knew I’d only have his attention for a second, so I showed him the outside of the happy, stuffed octopus.
The Kid started to look away.
Then I flipped it inside out to reveal a frowning octopus.
The Kid blinked.
I did it again. “Happy. Mad.”
The Kid smiled, and held his hand out for the item.
A guard took it from my trembling fingers and the kid scrambled out of his circle to claim it. His eyes lit up as he switched the toy from happy to mad and back. He squealed in delight, then pointed.
The guard grunted and hauled me to my feet by my elbow. “Looks like you caught him on a good day. Take whatever you want from the food room.”
My heart pounded in relief, but it also ached for this boy. For our innocent children who were now something else.