(Horror stories on a Catholic blog? I explain here.)
It’s All in the Stars
John-Paul ran from the telescope to the book of astral charts that lay open on his bed. Then he ran back to the telescope. Then he ran back to the bed.
His heart was thumping with excitement. It wasn’t possible. It had to be a dream. But he knew it wasn’t dream. It was too vivid.
This was real. He rushed towards his bedroom door, pulled it open so roughly that the dartboard hanging from it fell on the floor, and ran down the stairs.
He didn’t stop running until he was in the sitting-room. His father, sitting before the television, looked up with a smile.
“Hey, Jay Pee”, he asked. “Is there a fire upstairs?”
John-Paul just stood there, panting. All of a sudden, he felt ridiculous. His father was flicking through the channels with the remote control, his favourite hobby. His mother was ironing in the corner of the room. The smell of the steam and the familiar, sane sound of the television made what he’d just seen—what he’d just thought he’d seen—seem ridiculous.
“Blackburn have to start winning games at home if...asking why heating costs have not fallen in line with oil prices...I love you, Mary-Anne, I really do...”
“Well”, asked his father, still flicking through the two hundred and twelve channels they received, but turning back towards John-Paul. “What’s the story, Rory?”
“I think...” said John-Paul. “I think I just saw something really weird.”
“On the computer?”, asked his mother, her voice taut with anxiety.
“The London of Dickens was not the sentimentalized London of Christmas cards...remember, do not under any circumstances try this at home...”
“No”, said John-Paul. “Not on the computer. Through the telescope.”
“You shouldn’t mess about with that thing so much”, said his mother. “I’ve heard people have been blinded by looking through those things.”
“Looking into the sun”, said his father, still flicking through the channels. “That’s only from looking into the sun.”
“Well, stars are suns too, aren’t they?”, asked John-Paul’s mother. “What if he suddenly saw a comet?”
“You don’t understand astronomy”, said his father.
“The Russian Prime Minister said that NATO expansion would not be tolerated...How am I going to explain this to my Dad?...This isn’t a concept album, per se...”
“The stars aren’t right”, said John Paul. “They...they’re ten years too early.”
“What do you mean?”, asked his father, looking up from the screen.
“You know that book of astral charts you got me? The skies right now are the skies for the year 2020.”
“That’s not possible”, said his mother, folding a sheet.
“Listen to her”, said his father, who had finally stopped flicking through the channels. “A minute ago she was calling me narrow-minded for saying that Lucy Donovan couldn’t have seen a ghost.”
“Ghosts are real”, said John-Paul’s mother, stubbornly. “They’ve proved it scientifically.”
“Rubbish”, said his father.
“Will you come up and look with me?”, asked John-Paul, desperately. He didn’t know if he felt terrified or thrilled. “Please?”
His father looked reluctant for a moment, gave the television screen one last fond look, and then said: “OK. Let’s go see the future”. He put the remote on the arm of the chair, and stood up.
* * * *
“I don’t get it”, said John-Paul. “They were here, Dad. They were.”
“Don’t be ashamed to get things wrong, Jay Pee”, said his father, putting his arm on the shoulder. “That’s how great men are made. The man who never made a mistake never made anything.”
And with that, he turned and made for the bedroom door. A few moments later, John Paul heard his heavy tread on the stairs.
And then it hit him. Then he remembered. “The Russian Prime Minister said the NATO expansion would not be tolerated..”
All the talk on the news about deadlines and ultimatums and missile ranges. The early warning. The mushroom clouds blooming in the sky, so different from how he had imagined them. The panic. The devastation. And one by one, death taking everybody. Everybody.
“We’re all ghosts”, thought John-Paul, wonderingly. “The whole world.”
A moment later, he wondered why he was standing before the telescope. He looked through. The night sky looked exactly how it should have looked.