we drink hot chocolate when the world ends

Creative Nonfiction by Jim Almo

My phone rang on December 20, 2012. My mother was calling to say goodbye.

My aunt had messaged earlier: “Your mother’s batshit crazy. She called in tears to say she’s sorry I won’t be with her in heaven. Her church thinks the ancient Mayan calendar is predicting the end of the world tomorrow and that god is coming to take them away. I think she’s going to call you.”

The phone rang again, vibrating in the pocket of my jeans. I didn’t answer.

Instead, I stood at the park with my wife, watching our kids run around the playset and race down the slide, winter coats frictionless on the cold steel. Sunshine and the promise of hot chocolate at home made the below-freezing temperatures and icy air tolerable.

They didn’t know the world would end tomorrow. They jumped off swings, not understanding that the next morning, people would disappear, rivers would flow with blood, fires would destroy crops and bring widespread famine, and volcanoes would fill the air with poisoned gas. The entire world would be full of desperation, panic, and terror. A terrible nightmare from which no one could escape.

I didn’t tell them about any of it because they didn’t need to inherit the fear I grew up with, believing that at any moment, the rapture would happen and the world would end. We hoped so hard for the apocalypse that any sign of the end times was reason enough to pull the curtains and train our vision on the skies. We prayed hard for doomsday, knowing we wouldn’t be here to suffer.

First it was the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. Then the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. There was Y2K. And now the Mayan calendar.

I hadn’t thought about it in years. It was a fear that first felt real when I was seven, standing in the coffee aisle at the Kroger on route 60, when I thought god had descended from heaven and called us believers to leave earth and join him.

It was hard to tell at first. The coffee sat quietly on the shelf reminding me of my grandmother. She lived far away, but when we would visit, she always had lemon meringue pie and a cup of Sanka decaf for dessert. She would savor the pie and coffee while she held a smoldering Pall Mall between the knotted fingers of her right hand.

That’s how I missed the end of the world. I was lost in a universe of bright orange coffee labels, pie, and cigarettes. There were no fires. No earthquakes. Yet. The first moments of the apocalypse were uneventful.

My missing mother gave it away. I was holding the shopping cart, walking beside her. I must have let go of the cart when the rapture happened, because when I looked, neither she nor the cart were there. God had taken her away.

I thought maybe we wouldn’t go all at once. Perhaps we would get called to heaven a few at a time, and I would go soon, too. But as moments passed, I realized that I was left behind. Forgotten.

Things were about to get bad.

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. – Revelation 6:8

My heart beat in the back of my throat, making it nearly impossible to suck oxygen into my lungs, and my eyes grew warm with tears. I could only see bits of the world directly in front of me; everything else was a blur in spilled ink. I was a believer. I was supposed to get raptured to heaven, but now I stood shaking on the hard tiles of aisle 4. And I knew what was coming.

Death, famine, fires, unquenchable thirst, and attempting to survive on my own.

And then I saw her. My mother was at the end of the aisle. I didn’t miss the rapture. And I would be sure that I never took a chance on missing it again. I would be vigilant, always.

But vigilance takes a toll. And there are only so many rapture scares you can live through before you realize that god can’t hurt you if you don’t believe in him.

And now, with the apocalypse about to happen again, I took a deep breath of cool December air and called the kids over. Their frosty faces looked up and I told them. Not about the world ending. Not about fires and famine. But that it was time to get some hot chocolate.

Jim Almo

Jim Almo (he/him) grew up in a religious cult, which you can read about in his memoir if he ever finishes it. Today he is a writer and musician living in the northeast, where he loves to cook vegetarian dinners with his family. You can find his other work in CP Quarterly, JMWW, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Roi Fainéant Press. He’s also on Twitter @jimalmo.

4 responses to “we drink hot chocolate when the world ends”

  1. I loved how the events unfold. It feels quiet, almost known, like it’s something we’ve all lived through. Maybe in our way, we have. Looking forward to the book, Jim!

  2. Brilliant. I can visualize the coffee, aisle 4 and the smoke curl round your Grandmother’s coffee cup. Looking forward to reading the book.