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One Stroke to Midnight
by Julie Michaelson
12/26/11
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Then
I saw
another
beast.........
and....
it causes all
both small
and great,
both
rich and poor.....
to be marked
on the right hand
or
the forehead,
so that no one
can buy
or sell
unless
he has
the mark.
[Revelation 13:11-17]
******************
Time: Three and a half
years after The Rapture.
(Three and a half years....
from... right now?)
Place: Someplace in
the U.S.A.
_____________________
"Hey, ELENA! Did you
hear they were taking
down the old punch-in
clock, at midnight,
TONIGHT?"

(Elena shivered. She pulled her soft gray sweater closer,
as she reached for her raincoat. It was always a bit cold at
work; she was an office assistant at the local blood bank. Since the bank was open twenty-four hours a day, Elena had the 3rd shift: 12 midnight to 8am. At the moment, she was clocking out to go home. She would return for her next shift at 11:45 pm, this evening.)
"NO.....?"
(Elena tentatively pressed her thumb on the time-clock screen. Already, sweat had begun to form on her both her palms: the screen rejected her thumb-print, and she had to press on it again.)
"Are you SURE,
Ron? I didn't think
that was going to happen for several
MONTHS......?"

(Ron, who was forever carrying around a bag of breakroom-machine
popcorn, simply frowned, and shook his bald head: right in the center of his forehead was The Tattoo. Ron was noisly munching on another artificially-buttered piece of popcorn. He swallowed. The air around Ron always made Elena think of going to the movies.)
"Uh, uh! Starting MIDNIGHT.....everybody's gonna have to
CLOCK-in with their TATTOO!
Didn't you see the Employee News Page, YESTERDAY?
They had posted our fourth REMINDER......about it!
Didn't you SEE.......?"

(Elena, relieved that the 2nd try on the thumb-press had gone through, just shook her medium-length, red curls. It was pouring rain, by her glance out the big tinted windows of their building, and she was in a hurry to get to the parking lot. At this time of the workday, it would be mostly empty.)
"No, Ron........don't you REMEMBER?
I just came back from a week
OFF! I was in Ohio,
visiting my MOTHER...
she's been a nervous wreck,
ever since Dad disappeared
over three years ago,
with those...OTHERS......!"

(Ron nodded, and grimaced; he offered his greasy bag of popcorn to Elena; she shook her head slightly, and put out her palm in refusal.)
"Hope your Mom's doin' BETTER, Elena!
Well.......YOU got nothin' to worry about,
RIGHT? YOU didn't need any of those
REMINDERS, anyway! You always do everything the boss
TELLS you to do!"
(Ron chuckled, and popped another kernel in his mouth. He was on break, and had three more hours to go on his shift.)

"Well......SURE!"
(Elena's pretty curls at the base of her smooth neck suddenly dampened with sweat.)
"I.....uh.....took CARE
of that a WHILE...ago!
Probably about the same time..... that YOU did!"

(Ron's eyes moved up Elena's pretty face, and rested for a moment on her forehead: it was covered by a fringe of
thick wavy red curls. He paused for a moment, before speaking.)
"Huh? Uh, SURE!
HECK! Whatever they
want me to do.....to get
my PAYCHECK.......
RIGHT? Heck, I'd get
tattoos all over my BODY,
if they wanted to give me a RAISE,
right....NOW!"
(Ron popped another kernel into his goateed mouth, and gave another gaffawy-chuckle. A popcorn-flavored spit landed
on Elena's grey sweater.)

(Elena smiled, and gave a small laugh. Her stomach felt nauseous; the popcorn Ron was eating suddenly looked like rolled-up balls of yellow worms, and smelled like rotten eggs.)
"Yeah.......(laugh)....I
know what you mean....
well.....I gotta GO..."

(Ron's small, beady, brown eyes moved down Elena's forehead, to her pale neck, and then down her right arm to her slim wrist. Munching slowly and dramatically on a rather hard piece of kernel, Ron narrowed his eyes, thoughtfully....and then, suspiciously. His usually loud voice lowered to a loud whisper: full of employee-camaraderie.)
"You HAVE had it DONE.....HAVEN'T you,
Elena?"

"Uh......YEAH!"
(Elena bent over to pick up her thermal lunchpack, and handbag:
purposefully keeping her bare wrist out of sight.)
"Well......SEE YA
tomorrow, RON! Have
a good....uh.....rest of your SHIFT!"

"Sure.......yeah,
SURE, Elena."
(Ron suddenly smashed the greasy bag of left-over kernels, and
did a slam-dunk into the shift supervisor's waste can on the other side of the time-clock.)
"Uh.......hey, ELENA?
WAIT a sec! Just wait
a second, OKAY?"

(Elena's back was already turned on her nosy cubicle-mate. Bags and purse in one hand, she was buttoning her beige raincoat
with the other. She rolled her eyes in exasperation, and impatience, and.....sheer frustration.)

"WAIT! Just.....wait!"
(Ron had taken a ragged slip of paper out of his
pants pocket, and had grabbed a pen off of the shift supervisor's cluttered desk; he was holding the slip of paper up on the wall above the time-clock and employee bulletin-board, and was squinting while writing something down on the little slip. Then, a little uneasily, he crumpled it up, and reached over Elena's left shoulder: holding it out like his last big piece of buttered popcorn.)

(Her back still towards the time-clock and Ron, Elena quietly reached up, toward her left shoulder and took the proffered crumpled-up piece of paper. It smelled like rotten eggs. Elena's soft, sculptured lips pursed for a moment:
holding down the nausea.)
"Nite, Ron. See you.......
tomorrow....."

(Ron's voice was still
unusually low; it had
a tone of fear and worry.)
"I .......HOPE SO....
Elena.......nite."
____________________________
Elena walked hurriedly through the large glass
paned-doors of the East B-Building of the huge blood bank. Her tan, leather high heels clip-clopped over the smooth grey and black, heavy tiles. As she walked from under the steel overhang of B-Building, drops of cold rain pelted the copper curls which framed her small, heart-shaped face. Suddenly, Elena stopped walking toward the parking area. She groaned.
"Uh! I forgot my UMBRELLA!"
Before walking on, Elena reached a cold wet hand into her coat
pocket: the left one which contained the crumpled-up piece of
paper that Ron had just given her. Hefting both purse and lunchbag over to one shoulder, she awkwardly unwrapped the little ball of paper: it still smelled like Ron's buttery popcorn. Scrawled on the lined note paper in Ron's small, scrawny, sloppy handwriting were a couple of choppy sentences. The rain drops had smeared most of the dark blue ink.

'DO IT BEFORE YOU GO HOME!!!!
Building 2-C!
GO!!!!!'

Elena crumpled up the ball of paper, back to its original state, and then tossed it on the cold, dark tar of the
parking block: a puddle of rainwater swallowed it up. Elena hastily looked around; two gate guards, armed, were standing
under their heavily-lighted guardhouses, and looking to and fro. Elena, her heart beating through her soft gray sweater, and long beige raincoat, bent over to retrieve the paper. But it had already turned into a soggy, lumpy mess. Elena dropped her bags onto the wet tarmac, kneeling down: falling out of one high heel and tearing her soft nude-shaded, silky nylons in the process. She began crying; her words strangled through
heaving sobs, and the pouring rain.
"Oh, GOD!
OH, GOD!
WHAT SHOULD I .....
.....DO......? TELL ME
what to DO!"
**********************
The mark,
that is,
the name of
the beast
or
the number
of its name......
six hundred
and
sixty-six.
[Revelation 13:17-18]



Copyright 2011.

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