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Today’s entry is a response to the latest Terrible Minds Writing Challenge, and comes to you courtesy of the wonderful Chuck Wendig. We were instructed to choose a word from each of two columns of ten words. These two words would give us our title for a thousand-word story. From there, we were free to choose genre, setting, etc. so long as the title was composed of those two randomly selected words. It is with great pleasure that I present to you “The Apocalypse Mechanism.”

“The Apocalypse Mechanism”

I found myself hypnotized by the button. It sat there all day, just peeking up at me from beneath its warning label-emblazoned plastic cover. The labels said “Do Not Push”. The button seemed to say the exact opposite, but I knew what would happen if I pressed it. Hell, the alarm system would engage the second the cover was flipped open
(I wanted to push it)

and that couldn’t even be accomplished without two keys, only one of which was ever in my possession at any given time.

So I stared at it. Me versus the button. The greatest showdown never to be broadcast live on television, though one documentary maker had come down to film my little chamber about a year and a half after I started. Our little chamber, I suppose. Marco and I took turns. I don’t know if he stared at the button the way I did
(I wanted to push it)

like I was looking deep into the eyes of the lover I could never have. We never talked about it. He only spoke Italian, and I only spoke English. He had the other key. I wore mine around my neck. I think he did too, but again, we didn’t exactly have the best of conversations, or any conversations, for that matter. Language barriers and whatnot. Pretty sure the guys upstairs planned it that way, but there’s no way for me to know for certain.

The chair was pretty comfortable, so I guess you could say it was a cushy job. I mean, how many gigs can you find where you get paid a shit-ton of money to sit in a big chair and wait patiently for nothing to happen? Not many. This one was one of a kind, too. It was an armchair, too, not a desk chair or anything like that. Designed for me and me alone. There was a matching one opposite mine, made for Marco, and we never sat in each other’s. We wouldn’t have been comfortable. That was the way it was designed. I asked once what would happen if one of us had been killed, and the only response I’d gotten was an offhand comment about having to draft a plan for a new chair.

The button was green. That really threw me off the first time I sat in that chair. I’d been expecting red when they gave me the breakdown of the job. It just seemed logical that a button that could end the world would be red, you know? Nope. Green. Big and friendly, almost a neon green, like it was telling you “Don’t Panic” or something. Like it wanted to be pushed. I’m fairly certain it did, because then it would’ve been all over, but when I mentioned that to the staff psychologist, he said I was just projecting.

The button was only part of it, of course. The room wasn’t built to house anything, it was everything. The whole complex I worked in was the device, and the room with my little chair and my big friendly “Do Not Push” button
(oh, gods I wanted to push it)

was only a little chamber, a tiny fraction of the thing they called “The Apocalypse Mechanism.” Designed by the most brilliant minds on the planet, top to bottom, including my chair. I can’t call them the best minds, because if the best minds had been around at that point, it wouldn’t have come to the building of that damned thing. The best minds would have been able to come up with something better, a plan that wouldn’t involve Earth being sacrificed.

Still, the minds we had left were brilliant. They had taken good care of them in the facilities back in Russia. Neat little rows of jars, cleanly labeled, and so on and so forth. I’d actually gotten a tour of the place a few years before I got my button-watching job. A cold set of shelves, but like I said, they held the most brilliant minds left on Earth. They put them to use, and away we went, letting them design the mechanism that would allow us to hide our tracks completely.

Marco and I each worked on ten hour shifts. Ten hours on, ten hours off. Since we were underground, it didn’t really matter much to us that we didn’t see daylight. What was left to see on the surface anyway? Nothing I hadn’t seen before. Nothing I wanted to see again. Ten hours sitting, waiting for the word that it was time to wake the other, time to use the keys, time to release the plastic cover, time to push the big green button.

It would mean that the world would end. Earth would be destroyed, and the home of the human race would be lost to history forever. Marco and I would have no choice but to stay behind, of course. As far as I knew, he was just like me. No family, nothing left. No reason for us to be on the ships that would be setting course for the colony worlds far from our solar system. My button was the trigger. I held one of the two keys that would prevent anyone or anything from taking our home and using its resources against us. The Apocalypse Mechanism. The ultimate in scorched earth tactics.

I stared at the button for a lot of my shifts. I could have read, I suppose, or listened to music, but I couldn’t help myself. I knew that I’d have to push it one day. I could feel that from day one, so I stared at the button. I stared at it for five years, ten hours at a time.

Until now. Until the alerts. Too many ships still orbiting, trying to leave. Too many people still in range. No way to protect them now. No choice. I call Marco. We draw out our keys, unlock the cover.
(I don’t want to)

We push it together.

Can we be done with the end of the world?

I don’t mean the song. That’s twenty-five years old and still awesome.

I mean the doomsday prophecies. It’s 12/21/12, the day that some people decided would be the end of the world because it was the end of the Mayan calendar (as so many have already said, my calendar ends every year). I’m twenty-five years old too, but I’m already tired of the people claiming that the world is going to end on such and such a date just because somebody who couldn’t predict the downfall of their own civilization said that it would. I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve lived through “the end” just during my lifetime. Can we just all agree to stop claiming that we know what’s going to happen? The uncertainty of life is part of what makes it so beautiful. We have a (still relatively) beautiful planet that’s going to keep on spinning. We have so many things to explore and learn and see, but if we stop living each day just because we think that things are about to end, we waste so much potential. Just be happy.

I woke up a few days ago and I found this in my twitter feed. Now I like good zombie fiction as much as anybody else (and probably a hell of a lot more than some of you), but the topic is one that I’d tried to avoid mainly due to the over-saturation of modern popular culture. Well, that and I’ve worked in retail over Christmas, so I’m pretty certain I’ve already had some first-hand experience with fending off zombies. NO! BACK! YOU CAN’T HAVE MY BRAIN! HAVE THIS DELICIOUS HOMELESS MAN WHO HAS BEEN CAMPED IN FRONT OF THE STORE ALL WINTER INSTEAD!

The zombie craze has been going strong for several years now, and I am pleased to say that I think the vampire sex fantasies are dying off slowly, as exposure to light generally shows how stupid that concept is. (Disclaimer: I have read the Twilight books, and once I was done, I found myself wondering if I hadn’t briefly been turned into a zombie… I got better once someone handed me a copy of A Game of Thrones, and I am fully convinced that this is a legitimate cure. If nothing else, you can use the hardcover editions for bludgeoning weapons and a layer of the paperbacks as a sort of lightweight but still nearly bulletproof armor. Thank you for saving me, George.) Not that vampire stuff can’t be done well. Bram Stoker’s Dracula give me chills, three readings later, and Anne Rice had a great thing going with her earlier work. Or there’s always the Sookie Stackhouse books. You might know them as those stories that Stephanie Meyer completely ripped off when she wrote Twilight, or like A Game of Thrones, you might know of the story from the sexy HBO adaptation (I’m still waiting for the HBO version of my own life to kick in).

This isn’t to say that the zombie fiction isn’t just as ridiculous as the vampire fiction. Far from it. However, it is technically a little more plausible, especially given recent events. People are even catering to the zombie apocalypse with “anti-zombie” ammunition, bladed and blunt weapons, and fortresses. Zombies are in our video games, our movies, our books, and even our news articles. Combine pop culture’s love of this kind of shit with the fact that some people are legitimately convinced that the world’s going to end because a calendar carved in stone around 2600 years ago is running out of room (oh, hey, look, my calendar printed on paper is going to end this year too, I wonder if that means that the world really WILL end…) and people start to get a little twitchy. I must admit, though, that I am curious as to how a civilization that has supposedly predicted the end of the world couldn’t have foretold their inevitable downfall… I mean, it’s not like anyone who’s ever predicted the end of the world has ever been wrong. Wait, what? You mean they’ve ALL been wrong? Oh man, I need to rethink my strategy… But I digress. In all seriousness, the zombie apocalypse could be a lot of fun. There are some great depictions of it. I just can’t help thinking that any disease or thing like that might likely just kill everyone rather than creating living dead. You can blame my recent reading of Margaret Atwood for this.

Anyway, I should get some sleep. Zombies are making me sleepy. What’s that sitting beside me, you ask? Nothing, nothing, just a little shotgun in the event that you start moaning and craving brains in the near future. Can’t be too careful.