The respectable newspapers, for the most part, carried on as if nothing were out of the ordinary. And why wouldn’t they? Ambrose wondered. Why risk the embarrassment of having reported the end of the world, when good business sense was to duck your head and go on assuming you’d still have an audience the next morning?
The date in the paper’s corner — December 20, 2012, Thursday — seemed smaller than normal, if anything, as if they’d tried to slip it in under the radar.
Ambrose chuckled to himself over the headline. It was some nonsense about next year’s Department of Defense spending. Grinning, he flipped to the funnies. The South Border Star was a much more upstanding, conservative paper than the rag he wrote for.
But beggars can’t be choosers, he thought. And all writers are beggars, at heart.
In his ideal image of the future, the Constant Call would hold a fond place in his memory, even after he broke into the young adult market and started putting novels on shelves. He wondered, sometimes, if he should use a pen-name for the teenage melodramas, but didn’t seriously expect anyone to remember a single by-line that had ever appeared in the Call.
If the next story he’d been assigned actually came to anything, then there would be no Call, no South Border Star, and certainly no future young adult novels.
The short, ginger-haired, blue-eyed waitress came by again with more coffee, and Ambrose accepted gratefully. He didn’t think she was the same waitress who had taken his first order — that one had been blonde, he thought. Or maybe dark haired; he couldn’t really remember. Maybe there’d even been two different shift changes while he’d sat there. Whatever size tab he’d run up, it didn’t matter; he was sure his editor, Sylvia, would bitch about it one way or the other, when he got back to the New York office.
And there was another laugh.
Who cared about the fiscal budget for 2013, or about the spending of a vulgar New York tabloid, or even about the continuing intrigues of Mary Worth, when the world was ending?
No, he thought, not ending for sure. No-one knows that for sure — they never do. All we know is “they come back.”
He put the funnies aside and pulled from his leather portfolio the glossy, blown-up image of that last enigmatic glyph from the Long Count calendar: “They come back.”
Who? Who comes back?
That phrase was all anyone had heard for months. Asked ironically, expectantly, used as a slogan both by dour end-timers and optimistic Age-of-Aquarius nuts. Ambrose was sick of hearing it and sick to death of trying to figure out ome original, exciting interpretation. But he supposed he would have to get down to work, eventually. It was already eleven o’clock, December 20. The sky outside was clear and placid; full of stars.
Perhaps that was as good a way as any to start the article: “December 20, the eleventh hour; a dark, clear night. The stars are…”
What? The stars are full of stars?
Ambrose shook his head and spilled more whiskey into his coffee when the hostess wasn’t looking. They had to smell it, but they hadn’t called him on it yet. He wondered how long they would let him sit there, drinking and staring out the diner windows.
Probably, he thought, until the world ended.
Or as long as he kept ordering things, at least. He flagged down the redhead again.
“Can I get another order of those sweet potato fries?”
“Sure can,” she chirped; another overly cheery American ex-pat. He seemed to have found more of them than anything else in Guatemala. He certainly hadn’t found any aliens or wise Mayan elders willing to translate for him.