old illustration of a comet in the night sky

Every Purpose Under Heaven by Janet Shell Anderson

Friday, my ex Tommy texts me after court to tell me it’s the end of the world.

From my deck where I’m stretched out, feet up, sunset’s gold, rose, plum, and some shade so tender Venus burns in it like divinity. Long gusts of prairie wind call like voices in a church – prayer and response.

It’s the end of the world because first, there’s a comet, second, the University of Nebraska here in Lincoln has cloned Pleistocene mammals, oreodonts, that lived 35 million years ago. Tommy doesn’t really believe in Pleistocene mammals, or the Pleistocene either, for that matter, or care about comets. He just wants to get together, misses me.

The oreodonts, ugliest lambs imaginable my clients have told me, are mostly made of sheep DNA. The comet I don’t know much about. I text Tommy it’s the end of the world because they are building a Walmart three blocks from my new house and it will ruin my property values.

Court was brutal. Judge Crane ruled against me all afternoon. I’m too tired to go out with Tommy. In my big caramel leather chair at my window, I fall asleep looking at gaudy sunset pooling beyond Salt Creek and a bright star with a tail. I wake up at what seems like two A.M.

Thunder, or something like it, shakes me out of sleep. No rain, no wind. Blackness. Where are my neighbor’s lights? I hit the lamp switch; it doesn’t work. When I burn a fat red candle, my reflection in the huge, dark windows looks worried.

Something howls. A coyote. The comet shines. Stars spangle the Nebraska skies for a while, but I don’t like this night. It’s breathless. Wrong.

I’ve always felt safe in this house with its heavy doors, forty-foot ceilings, huge stone fireplace, massive windows. A fortress. All mine. Tommy took off with my paralegal until she tried to poison him at a horse show. I moved here. He says he misses being married to a divorce attorney.

I hear bellowing. Trumpeting. Like elephants. Could the Walmart people be bringing in a circus?

Tommy’s good looking, quick, but crazy as that trumpeting. I wish he were here though.

A short, shaggy, odd pony trots down the street. Are the circus animals loose? What is the Mayor thinking to let a Walmart locate in an upscale neighborhood like this? Something screams in the high grass beyond my lawn. A rabbit caught by a cat? A cat caught by a coyote? I see nothing in the silvery fields.

I asked my ex what he would do if it was the end of the world. Marathon sex in our hot tub. Then go see his Mom. That’s Tommy.

I see something bigger than a buffalo down near Salt Creek. I have to talk to Judge Crane about this tomorrow; he’s friends with the Mayor. We just can’t have this going on out here. Another scream.

Dawn is hours away.

I call Tommy on my cell, text him, leave voice mail. Where are you Tommy? Off with the poisoner again? I lock the doors, climb to the balcony off the master bedroom, wait.

A short, fat, wheezing animal with a trunk and big ears trundles into my backyard, makes a series of blubbering sounds, looks frightened. I watch until dawn smears ruby light over the Ridge, then see a herd of somethings in the valley floor to the west. Tall, with large domed heads, long legs, sloping backs, thick reddish-brown fur – I don’t think they’re oreodonts. Their trumpeting is high-pitched, but there are other, deeper sounds that I feel in my bones.

Rose light floods the valley, touches the limbs of burr oak, willow, cottonwood, stains the waist-high prairie grass. Meadowlarks, mourning doves call, then go silent as if they too have seen the herd. The Walmart site stands unfinished in the raspberry dawn. Has the University done this?  Has the Mayor? Did Judge Crane know about it?

The herd of monster elephants, mammoths I think, moves through the mauve dawn mist. A striped cat the size of a tiger, but with long fangs that jut from its mouth bends over a smaller bloody body. The comet hangs almost at treetop height.

The little elephant, or pygmy mammoth, or whatever it is, cowers under my deck. Its wails sound like words, like cries I heard a long time ago from peacocks at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo. I guess it sobs for both of us, lawyer and monster.

“Help. Help. Help.”

Janet Shell Anderson writes flash fiction, has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, has been published in Vestal Review, decomP, Grey Sparrow and others, wrote a “flash” novel. She’s an attorney.

Lead image“Augsburger Wunderzeichenbuch, Folio 52 (Comet mit einem grosen Schwantz, 1401)” (via Flickr user Image Catalog)