It was a blue August morning when the bombs fell. Jason and Mike, roommates, woke like everyone else in New York City and mistook reality for a dream. Eyes wide open, the explosions echoed in their ears.
It began with the news. The stations had been covering the disaster since the first explosion. Jason sat on the sofa of their living room with a mug of black coffee, wearing a beater over sweatpants. Mike sat nearby on a reclining chair, the fabric torn over the arms. He had on knee high socks and running shorts. Both were in disbelief. A nuclear bomb had been dropped on New Jersey, and the fallout could be felt across the state line.
“I really like this channel,” Mike said. “They have accuracy, not entertainment.”
“For sure, dude,” Jason replied.
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Outside, a cloud of dust settle on the kitchen windows.
“I feel like a game of pickup,” Mike said.
Jason’s phone rang. It was a text from his girlfriend. It read, “Come over.”
“That your girl?” Mike asked.
Jason tossed the phone onto the coffee table. “Yeah. She’s all worried and shit.”
“Shouldn’t you be with her?”
“Nah, man. We got a game to play.”
A full court game was in play. Jason and played on the same team. Their shots had never been better. The score was 20 to 20. Mike took the inbound pass and dribbled to the hoop. A defender stepped in front of him. Mike passed the ball to Jason, who stood at the goal line. Jason shot a perfect arch. The ball sank through the net. Game over. Crowds lined the fence, the fingers poking through the chain links, all there to witness the last game of basketball. The sweaty players hugged in a final embrace.
Jason packed his ball into his bag. Inside, his phone was lit up. Another text from his girlfriend. “I need you,” it read.
He texted back, “It’s over.”
Jason hung his arm around Mike’s shoulder. “Where do we go now?”
Two blondes in their 20s stood outside the park as Mike and Jason walked past the fence. They were smoking. “You looking to have fun?” one asked.
“What’d you have in mind?” Jason asked.
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The girl dropped her cigarette and put it out with her heel. There were snowflakes made from ashes in the air. “Ever done it in a cemetery?”
Jason looked at Mike who shrugged.
“That’s where we were heading,” Jason said.
They hid behind tombstones and made love. After they had finished the girls stood up and chased each other like children playing. The men puffed away at their cigarettes as the girls held hands and danced into the surrounding woods. The last Jason and Mike saw of them was a ponytail that disappeared among the trees. It was now afternoon.
The boys finished their cigarettes and flicked the butts aside. Their heads rested against tombstones, their hands sunk in the grass. They felt like they were being pulled into the earth.
“What do we do next?” Mike asked.
Jason rubbed his faced. “I’ve always wanted a facial,” he said.
Mike laughed. “What else do you do when it’s over?”
People walked aimlessly down the streets. An empty trash can rolled down an alley. A cat walked along, sniffing for food. The boys found a local spa that was still open. A group of old women with white towels wrapped around their hair lay on beds. At the front of the lounge sitting behind a desk was a receptionist, who looked at the boys and smiled, as if the world was not ending.
“Rarely see your kind here,” she said. She pulled out an appointment book from under the desk.
“I didn’t think we’d need an appointment,” Jason said.
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She scanned the book, looked up and smiled. “The rest of the day’s slots are empty. Just your lucky day.”
She led them to two empty beds at the back of the lounge. The boys took a seat and lay back their heads, and for the first time had a facial. The masseuse’s hands were soft and soothing.
Jason felt his face between his hands as they left the shop. “My god, my face feels absolutely wonderful.” His features had slowly softened, his facial hair gone. His skull had shrunk. His face was now tinier, like that of a girl.
Mike felt his own. “This feels absolutely amazing,” he said. His face had gone through the same transformation as Jason’s.
“You know what we need?” Jason asked.
Jason looked at his hairy legs. “We need a wax.”
“That sounds lovely.”
The boys whooped and hollered. Their echoes rang out in the distances of the now quiet city.
The boys skipped down the street to the nearest beauty salon. Inside a Korean woman greeted them and asked what they were here for.
“We’d like to get a wax,” Jason.
“What type?” the woman asked.
“We’re not sure,” Mike said.
“Well, you can get a Brazilian, a full body–”
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“You do full bodies?” Jason asked.
“For twenty dollars.”
“We’ll both get a full body,” Mike said.
The boys were led to a back room where they stripped naked. Mike was first. It was freeing to feel his body’s smoothness, despite the pain. Jason went next, and just as Mike, he felt beautiful now that all the manly hair was gone.
Outside, the boys felt their skin and hugged themselves. As they did they noticed their bodies had gotten smaller, their bones thinner, their hips wider, and breasts where their chests once were
“You look gorgeous,” Mike said to Jason, his voice now soft and feminine.
“You don’t think I look fat?” Jason asked in a feminine voice as well.
“I wouldn’t lie to you. Though you look absolutely silly in those sweatpants.”
“Oh yeah. You look ridiculous in those gym shorts.”
Mike blushed. “I can’t go out looking like this.”
“You know what we need?” Jason asked. “New clothes.”
The boys took the subway to the nearest Macys. The store was filled with people shopping. Women fought with each other over pairs of heels as the men sifted through the sports jackets. Shoes were gone from the racks. The lines to the registers wrapped around the store as people were quick to max out their credit cards and empty out their life savings.
Jason and Mike swapped their exercise shorts for dresses. Mike chose a brown fall dress while Jason settled for a black skirt and pink button up. They then made their way to the shoe department where they spent an hour trying on all the brands that were left.
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The boys threw on their clothes in the dressings room. They walked out girls, stylish ones at that.
“So,” Mike said, “what’s next?”
Jason’s stomach growled. “How about we get ourselves a nice dinner?”
“What were you thinking?” Mike asked.
“What a marvelous idea,” Mike said.
There was an echo of the last bomb being dropped as they boys made their way back to the safety of the subway station,
The restaurant was dark and lit by candles on the dinner tables. In the distance a saxophone played “Moondance.” Couples listened to the band on stage, laughing among themselves as they drank themselves silly. Men ordered the oldest bottles of wine the restaurant had in its cellar as women openly flirted with random men picked up off the street.
Jason and Mike, who now decided to go as Sarah and Michelle, stood at the entrance of the restaurant waiting for a seat. Michelle had first suggested the name Jessica because it sounded like Jason, but Jason had protested and said she had always felt more like a Stephanie.
A cute gentlemen greeted them and sat them next to the stage. The girls watched with smiles as the band played on, taking calls from the audience.
“I’ve always wanted to come her,” Michelle said.
“I’ve been here a few times,” Sarah said. “The chicken Marsala is amazing”
The girls ordered a bottle of the oldest red wine that was left. Stephanie’s American Express
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card had been maxed out after they bought clothes but no one cared as the band played and the last survivor’s of Earth drank their misery away. Everyone danced as the band played Coltrane’s version of “Greensleeves.” As the music swelled, the couples on the floor fell to ashes, followed by the band, then the staff.
Only Stephanie and Michelle remained, surrounded by the shadows of men burnt into the wall of the club. The saxophone lay next to the piano. The crash cymbal was still ringing as the drumsticks scattered across the floor. The girls walked out of the bar.
It was now 10:00 pm, and New York City was quiet. Cars were stranded in the road. The ash snow now ankle deep. The girls shivered.
“I think I’m ready to go home,” Michelle said.
“I don’t think we’re going home,” Stepahanie said. “The buses aren’t running. The taxi drivers are gone. We’re all that’s left. And we can’t outrun this anymore.”
Stephanie held Michelle’s hand. “Me too,” she said. “There’s a hotel near hear. We can find shelter there.”
The girls walked in the hotel and calmly moved past the shadows of families burned into the lounge wall. They walked down the hall, trying doors but they were locked.
Stephanie shouted from down the hall. “Over here, there’s a card still in the door.”
They opened the door to an empty room.
“I have to wash-up,” Stephanie said. She walked in the bathroom and slipped out her clothes,
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then took a long shower.
Stephanie walked out with a towel wrapped around her head. There were two beds in the room. Michelle was asleep on the one closest to the door. Stephanie got in the other bed. Through the window she saw the horizon now green and purple. A tear fell from her eye.
“Michelle,” Stephanie said, in a hushed voice.
Michelle rolled over and rubbed her eyes.“What is it?”
“I’m frightened. Can I sleep next to you?”
Michelle pulled the blanket away. “Sure.”
Stephanie hugged Michelle. “You’re amazing,” she whispered as they both drifted to sleep, their heads now on each others’ shoulder. All that remained was a shadow of their bodies imprinted against the bed.