End of Days, by Mark Budman
(First published in Matter Press)
On the driest and windiest day of the year, your neighbor’s house catches fire for the reasons that probably have little to do with eschaton as it’s defined in Abrahamic religions or in any doomsday scenarios, and you come to watch. Your neighbor stands, dusted, burned and bloodied, a bewildered grin on his face. The flames dance behind him like go-go girls.
You cross the street and ask him, pointing to a melting plastic figure of a saint in his front yard, “Did your god protect you?” The ravens in the tree above quote you verbatim to each other and to everyone willing to listen, but what do they know about revenge? The neighbor punches you, and your wife records it on tape, and you call 911—you have a button programmed for that—and the cops take the neighbor away.
Later, you sit with your wife in your backyard, listening to the hymns you want, as loud as you want and when you want. And no one reports you anymore. Later yet, you check your black eye in the mirror. You like yourself in spite of the injury: a handsome, intelligent and resourceful man with a degree in eschatology earned online. Liking yourself over your neighbor is your educated and logical choice.
The air is still heavy with smoke and burnt plastic. The ravens still have a discussion outside. Quoth-quoth, so to speak. Very Poe-etic. You laugh at your cleverness. You should be proud. You have prevailed. In the end, everything else is a flight of irrational fancy.