Please Hold, The End of the World Will Be Right With You

Lucky Ferez was bent over his containers of taco toppings when a hand-sewn bag of organic catnip bounced off his head. He straightened, winced a little at the ache of old bones, and glanced over at the booth across the way. “Why’d you throw that at me, Bessi?”

     A young woman with long braids and multiple ear piercings grinned from behind her table piled high with hand-crafted cat treats, toys, and assorted ephemera. She jerked her head to one side, motioning at something a couple of rows away, as she walked up to Lucky’s counter. “We’ve got another one.”

     Lucky looked.

     The Wilshire Avenue Open-Air Flea Market and Bazaar spread around him in rows of packed-dirt paths and tidy stalls. This flea market was one of the largest in the country, and a place where you could get just about anything; from real skulls to live parrots, antique phonographs to questionable grease-stained bags sold by sweaty, nervous vendors, Wilshire Avenue had it all.

      And now it had an angel.

     The angel – stereotypically tall, blonde, and androgynous – had materialized in a blaze of glory between a fresh corn stand and a booth selling knock-off Nikes. It spread wide its wings – knocking over the corn stand in the process – pointed a shining sword skyward, and spoke in a voice that rolled like thunder on the horizon. “Behold! I am a messenger of the Lord, and I bring dark tidings! The end is nigh! Judgement is at hand!”

     There was a moment of silence.

     Nothing happened.

     The people that had paused at the angel’s words went back to their browsing.

     Bessi giggled and started typing on her phone.

     “Texting that friend of yours?” Lucky asked.

     “Yep. I won our bet. He owes me ten pounds of fresh cod. That angel’s Des Moines’ sixth doomsayer alone while all of California’s only ever had two.”

     “Seventh.”

     “What?” Bessi looked up, startled.

     “Des Moines’ had seven.” Lucky covered the topping tubs and pulled out a cardboard box filled to the brim with newspaper clippings.

     “Seven?” Bessi shook her head fiercely. “No, we’ve only had – whoa!” She pointed. “The angel knocked over Mrs. Nowak’s corn and she is pissed!”

     Lucky glanced up from the papers he was rifling through. A tiny elderly woman was hitting the angel with an ear of corn. The angel was fending Mrs. Nowak off with its sword. Corn silk floated in the air. A small crowd had gathered to watch.

     Lucky sighed and flipped through his stack of clippings faster, setting some aside as he went.

     “You oughta scan these, set up a nice digital presentation. Something you could show on a smart phone.” Bessi leaned over the counter and poked at the papers. “Taking it on yourself to go talk to the angel, huh?”

     “You volunteering?”

     “Hell no.” Bessi glanced up from the clippings, and not for the first time in their two-year acquaintance Lucky thought of how old Bessi’s eyes looked.

     Lucky checked on the angel. Mrs. Nowak was hobbling after the angel and trying to hit it with her walking cane The angel, dusted with corn silk, had dropped its sword and was countering this attack with a handful of peaches. The crowd was bigger. Money was changing hands.

     “For eighty-some-odd years now some thing out of myth or religion pops in somewhere, foretells the end of the world, and then nothing happens and people get bored and the world keeps turning and the doomsayers are left to wander around all confused. No one cares anymore.” Lucky said.

      The young woman held an old newspaper clipping up. The edges were yellowed, and tape held the broken creases together. “Hmm. Going all the way back to Mothman?”

     “Mothman was the first to show up, and after a few months of no apocalypse he was down to rooting through dumpsters and jumping out of trees to scare people. Now what’s he doing? Living in West Virginia and doing gas station openings. If I can give that angel a little history maybe it’ll be more prepared for its new life. Not end up like the Serpent of Midgard, stuck giving kids rides at county fairs.”

     Bessi shrugged. “Or that encantado. Sea World is no place for a magical dolphin. Now, that angel that’s all eyes and wings? He’s got it good. Just released his new mascara line.” She picked up the most recent clipping, a small blurb at the bottom of page eight, under a story about a farmer winning a prize for the biggest pumpkin at the Oklahoma State Fair: Talking Jackal Appears at Local Whataburger, Talks End of World, Orders New BBQ Meal. “Anubis was smart. Turned that appearance into a sweet spokesman gig. Lucky dog.”

     Lucky added the clip to his pile and shuffled the newspapers into an orderly stack. “Watch my stuff. I’ll be back in a few.”

     Bessi straightened and crossed her arms. “Gonna give the angel your little spiel that it’s just a scheduling mistake and the end of the world will be here soon?”

     Lucky nodded. “Gotta give ‘em hope.”

     A cloud passed over Bessi’s face. “Sure. Hope. That ol’ end of the world is coming along any day now, and then all the doomsayers can finally go home.” She turned away abruptly and fussed with her merchandise.

     Lucky headed toward the angel, who was now sitting on the ground weeping while Mrs. Nowak patted its wings and offered it a hot dog. Of course Bessi was confused as to why Lucky cared. She didn’t know that he’d been waiting for the end since he was sent up here six decades ago with his own message to share. She couldn’t understand the confusion, the despair, the questioning of one’s purpose that came about when you were given one job to do – announce Armageddon – and then nothing happened and no one back at the office answered your calls and when you tried to go home the door was locked and the key wasn’t under the doormat.

     He thought again of Bessi’s ancient eyes.

     Then again, maybe she did.

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