I felt a queasy foreboding when the blackout hit. Cell and internet service were down too. My wife Mary, a librarian, a devout optimist, took it in stride. She thought it was temporary. So did our neighbors. Everyone spilled out of their houses and onto the sidewalks. When I told people something might be really wrong, they called me a pessimistic bummer. There were beer coolers and lemon cookies. It was like a beach day. Music poured from battery-powered radios. Night fell, children danced. But then someone passed around phone pics of the alarming scene at the subdivision limit. “Jesus Christ!” Mary said, spilling her beer. “Is this a joke?” The mood was murdered. Everyone scrammed inside. That night I dreamed of huge, black, hideous tail-stingers.
In the kitchen at night, Mary and I talked endlessly. About nature, science, zoology. Why were sinister giant scorpions tightly encircling our neighborhood, in effect trapping us? Were they evolutions of regular scorpions? Did they cause the blackout? The cell and internet failure? We didn’t know. We ate vanilla wafers and discussed suicide. I was for it, Mary against. “Your vote doesn’t count, Ethan,” she said. “You’ve always wanted to die.” I shrugged. It was true enough.
Strangely, awesomely, we started to feel excited. Bewitched, enthralled. Even me. Turned out I preferred the threat of actual death to my soul-deadening career in market research. My mind hummed like melodious hymns. I turned our scummy root cellar into a sleek fallout shelter. Whereas regular life gulped me dry, the apocalypse pumped me up. “Except it might not be an apocalypse,” Mary said, nibbling beef jerky. “I mean, we’re so cut off. For all we know, it’s only happening in our neighborhood.” I nodded absently, then went back to fortifying the shelter.
Our neighbor Fred was enthralled in his own way. Formerly clean-cut, he had grown a long, reeking, hillbilly beard. His eyes were bloodshot, his teeth yellowed. Fred prowled the subdivision limits every night, looking for a crack in the scorpion brigade, a way we might escape on foot or by car. In a surprise to no one, Fred failed to return home one night. In the morning, some of us went with his distraught wife Bev to look for him. When we sighted a mangled body on the ground, Mary muffled Bev’s mouth before she could scream and attract the huge black scorpions in the near distance. “He wasn’t just killed, he was eaten,” Mary whispered to me on the walk home. “We’re prey now. I just hope he was already dead when it happened.”
Awake in bed, Mary often talked about Biblical infallibility. It was the theory that the Bible was the pure, untainted word of God. “Impossible,” Mary said one night. “Man’s fingerprints are all over it. The text is a total product of its era. I mean, would God really endorse rape and slavery and male supremacy?” Not that Mary or I believed in God. But ever since the scorpions arrived, she was giving it her best shot. An afterlife appealed to her. She was no longer bewitched, if she’d ever been. I held her close but felt far away. It had been weeks since I thought of suicide.
As the weather got hotter, the scorpions got bolder. They entered the subdivision now, clattering around, front pincers snapping, tail-stingers curling angrily forward. “Aren’t giant scorpions sort of, like, overkill?” Mary said flatly, peering out the window. “Regular scorpions are evil enough. A loving god would never have made them in the first place.” I was grimly fascinated. The huge scorpions, paralyzing their prey with their stinger, ate birds and rats and also, sometimes, our neighbors. We saw whimpering toddler siblings, Douglas and Suzy, get devoured alive. Most of us stayed inside now. Mary and I wondered if the giant scorpions were the new dinosaurs. Would they rule the earth for millions of years? It mattered but also didn’t. We were goners either way.
Mary was mystified. “It’s all just so stupid and random,” she said when the scorpions started to invade houses. “I mean, all the studying. The working, the striving. And then, bam! Trick ending.” I said nothing. I always knew that, absent suicide, I’d die in the absolute dumbest way possible. I suggested trying to fight the scorpions. Mary laughed. “Do you have a bazooka?” she asked. “No? Well, then, I guess we’re screwed. But I’m not gonna be a scorpion snack. Let’s hole up in your shelter until we starve.” We climbed down and settled in. Weeks passed. Mary was glumly silent. I held her hand. We drank bottled water and ate rice cakes. They were stale and over-salted and running low. We recapped our rain-soaked wedding day. And that was it, the turning point—the end of my bewitchment. Reality barreled back. I screamed and wept and hugged my smart, beautiful, sweet-smelling wife. I told her that being her husband was the one glory of my measly life, and that nothing could kill my love for her, that it would live forever, like a valentine-heart graffitied in red permanent marker on an indestructible brick wall. I said that maybe there was a world beyond nature, beyond religion, and that maybe we’d enter it together. Mary held my face and smiled sadly. “Oh, Ethan,” she said. “You’re so naive.” ###