Jacqueline May has an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Illinois, and her work has appeared in Stirring, Prick of the Spindle, Fiction Fix, and Every Day Fiction and has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. She currently teaches composition at Alverno College.
I wasn’t making any money. People weren’t in the mood. When the cloud appeared over Mount Mortis the previous afternoon, the city got grim. People hugged themselves and hunched into their coats, walking fast without glancing at my table. It wasn’t even cold out.
We’d lived under the prophecy for so long we didn’t pay it much attention. Sometimes in the circulars there would be a story about a society without a prophecy, a people who didn’t know how they’d end, and the talk would start up again, but it was like discussing politics: inescapable around elections, rare the rest of the time.
I moved my shells around on the tabletop and kept up the patter, but my eyes were on Mount Mortis. Good thing I wasn’t drawing in any customers—I didn’t know where the coin was either.
Officer Jerome stopped by like always. “How’s business, Caspar?” The worn-in wrinkles in his brow were more like troughs today.
I spread my hands. “How do you think? How’s it with you?”
“How do you think?” His gaze flicked from me to the distance, and mine followed. On top of the mountain, under the cloud, something was happening.
When the prophecy came down from the seers 120 years ago, there were riots. The kind of chaos you’d expect. All my contemporary history books had sketches of mobs pulling down obelisks or hanging outsiders from rafters and trees. That prophecy replaced the previous prophecy, which said, roughly, that bad news would cause chaos.
In the ensuing religious upheaval, my forefathers became staunch Parolites. Other sects like the Turcians and Cirogians gained power too. There was fighting. More lynchings, more obelisks constructed and defaced and constructed and pulled down.
We’d come a long way. The cloud couldn’t be anything but the “grau miasma” foretold, but I hadn’t seen anything but unhappy, fixated people hurrying along. I was proud of us. The fruition of an end prophecy was—as history taught us again and again—a test. A test most societies failed. In Subia, everyone died during infighting before the tsunami arose. In Vatu, frantic end-of-days sex left most of the adult population infected with hemorrhagic grue. Then they learned the strange weather patterns weren’t harmful after all. Then one of their sages discovered a missed bracket on the original copy of their prophecy that changed the meaning from something like “the sky shall descend” to something like “their bowels shall fail.”
But us, we were fine. We were going to go out with our heads high.
“I don’t want to die,” I told Officer Jerome.
“Join the club. Look, what’s up there?”
I squinted along his pointing finger. On top of Mount Mortis, dark shapes were massing. We watched them billow from within the mountain. “Turcia mia,” he marveled. “It’s the Monoliths.”
My guts went cold. “They’re just a legend,” I said, but my voice betrayed me. A woman passing by said, “Don’t be so sure.”
The Parolite liturgy of my childhood sprang into my head. Lords and ladies of the pantheon, we beseech you. We call upon your unrestrained mercies. Forgive us. We have been selfish. We have followed our own way. We reap the bitterness of your justice. I finished out loud: “May your mercies flow upon us, that we may be spared.”
Officer Jerome murmured, “Hear us, O Turcia, on the day of our need.” He blinked the faraway look from his eyes. “Surprised I even remember that. Haven’t been to services since we buried my sister.”
“My parents would be ashamed.” I looked down long enough to stack the shells, scooped up the coin and folded my hand tight around its coolness. “They really believed. I never told them I stopped.”
“Might be a good day to start up again.” Officer Jerome and I stared together at the shapes burgeoning from the mountain. Up and down the sidewalk, others were beginning to do the same.