Kingdom Come

The world was falling apart. So was their marriage. And then a doorway to another world opened above Central Park . . .

by Bruce McAllister

War in Heaven
Illustration by Robert K. J. Killheffer
Image by Gustave Doré for John Milton's Paradise Lost


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His wife shouted from the kitchen, while outside, angels died.

He was working in the corner of their apartment’s small living room, and he paid no attention. She shouted again, saying “Jesus Christ!” and at the word Christ there was an explosion, a shattering of glass. He got up and padded his way across the flattened pile of the aging Daylong rug. The shag had once been a smooth Eldorado Gold. Now it was mottled with broad, dark smears from months of sugary drinks and other spills. Nothing ever changes, he told himself. Nothing ever changes in here, even with the world outside what it is. He tried not to think of it, but long white wings flashed behind his eyes, and he couldn’t help himself. It was always there. He came up behind her and sighed, letting the sigh lead into his first word. “What’s the matter?” The shards of one of their last water glasses lay glittering at the base of the kitchen wall.

She turned her head slowly, the muscles and tendons taut on her neck, one blazing eye coming into sight first, then the other, her mouth in a sneer. “I’d tell you — if I thought you could understand,” she said. The same childish sarcasm. Too many years with kids.

He looked away and closed his eyes. It was beginning again. All the lines they’d used before — one version or another — and went on using, even with the world outside being what it was. The pale wings. The great door. The greater shadow.

He could feel her glaring at him, and he waited for the whisper of shoe on linoleum as she turned her back on him. It came. He opened his eyes and watched her move to the sink, where she began to fumble with something, as if purposefully.

He felt his jaw tighten, as always. “What are you talking about?”

She said nothing. He stared at the back of her head, at the wisps of dark hair at her neck, which he still found beautiful. He wondered what an angel’s neck was like.

He looked around the kitchen slowly, seeing the leaking faucet, the fire-blackened wall above the stove. Neither was new. Then he saw the big black fingerprints on the wall, five or so feet above the glass shards, as if an oversized child had put them there. He tried to remember how — why — he had put his hands up there like that.

“I’m sorry about the fingerprints on the wall,” he said. “It’s generator oil.”

“It’s not just the fingerprints, Jerry.” She didn’t pause. “By themselves — taken alone,” she went on, loving the sound of it, “big black fingerprints on the wall are almost pretty. On a lovely white wall like that.”

He had closed his eyes again, dizzy with the familiarity of it all.

Was this simply how they coped — in the face of it ? Wings, shadow, jaws, the sounds just beyond their walls.

“The baby craps in her diapers,” the voice was saying, “but you’re watching a blank TV screen, so I clean it up. You smear the walls, so I clean it up. Do you want to know why?”

Still blind, he knew she was turning. He opened his eyes. She stood before him with the can opener raised like a little ax, mouth open, words ready.

“Because you’ve trained me well, Jerry. Sometimes I’m even happy doing it.”

He thought of the creatures dying outside. “All right! I said I was sorry about the damn fingerprints, and I’m sorry about everything else, too. Let’s drop it. I’ve got two hours left on the generators.”

She was staring at him, shaking her head in slow motion. She wasn’t saying anything; she was just shaking her head. It drove him crazy, as always.

“You’re pathetic,” he whispered.

“I’m what?”

“You’re pathetic,” he heard himself say again. “Go ahead. Shake your head while you think of something wonderful to — “

The Swing-a-way can opener left her hand and moved in slow motion past his head — close enough for sincerity but without any pretense of aim. He turned and watched it fall short of the drapes in their small dining room. He stared at it.

Even this tiny gesture of violence was familiar. It had been a plate the last time, a coat hanger before that, a fork — all offered in the same way.

A cry came from the stairwell, but neither of them stopped.

The old rage began to fill him.

You bitch,” he told her.

He was glaring at her, and as he glared, the kitchen brightened as if a ball of ragged light had suddenly come through the walls. His eyes were wide open. His mouth was twisted. It had him now, the script, and he remembered his decision.

“Jerry. I’m sorry.”

As always, the voice had changed. The eyes had changed.

“Dear God,” he spat. How could anyone who’d run a preschool for seven years be so goddamn weak?

“Jerry, please.” She was pained; she didn’t want him angry at her anymore.

“Why do I ever listen to your bitching?” he was saying. “It’s over in five minutes, but I listen. I take you seriously. I worry.”

He began to move — toward the living room, the hallway, toward his decision.

Jerry.” The voice was loud, plaintive.

“The window,” she pleaded. As far away as she was, as frightened as she was, it sounded like a whisper: “Please.”

He stopped in the middle of the living room. He didn’t want to. This time he just didn’t want to. But there were times when she didn’t want to either, and she went ahead and did it, didn’t she? If she could do it, he could, couldn’t he?

He felt a stab of old affection and then nothing. He turned to her, did not look at her eyes, and took one end of their Danish-plaid sofa. She took the other end, and they began to move it.

They moved it from the wall where the feathery crack in the plaster had begun to creep down behind the sofa. They arranged it so it faced the floor-length drapes in the living room. He turned off the light. She opened the drapes.

When they sat down, they did not touch. But once again — for the moment — they were on the same couch, nearly touching, looking out and wondering whether the scratchings at the door, the moans and cries and wordless pleas that sometimes came to the hallways outside would interrupt them. It had happened before.

Together they looked out at the world, the dream and nightmare of it.

Central Park was gone. In the perpetual twilight that held everything, they could see, down toward Ninety-Sixth, the dark swaths of the few remaining trees and paths. Beyond that — reservoir, museum, lake, and zoo — the park was gone. From Columbus Circle to Ninety-Sixth, it was gone.

The few trees and pathways that remained might have been comforting, but they were too distant and dim. In place of the park was what he had come to call The Door. What his wife called it, in her private thoughts, he did not know. They did not refer to it out loud; they did not have to. It was always there, whether the drapes were open or not.

Through The Door, its great edges shimmering like a black mirage, they could see the other universe — the dark, towering cliffs and darker sea; the eternal twilight; the twin moons; the spit of dim, barren land that somehow bridged the two worlds.

From the twilight of that other universe, from the moons and towering cliffs, the winged creatures streamed into their world. Like flocks of great birds they caught updrafts, banked and plummeted, and soared again, moving effortlessly between the two skies. But more than that, they played, tumbling and teasing, their bodies — all but the wings — so human, their heads thrown back in what he felt sure was laughter, the kind that children made.

And then it would change. Out of nowhere would come things barely visible, not unlike the creatures’ own winged shadows, and darker than the twilight. A pair of wings would be struck, then another, and another; and each pale pair would drop through the twilight with its shadow, feathers trailing as if torn by invisible jaws.

The pale wings would flicker in and out of darkness. The bodies would twist, disappearing and reappearing, writhing. A few would eventually regain flight, flapping injuredly back to their world or on into this one. A few would fall to the earth, streaming light, and he would see them later wandering the land bridge between the two worlds, wingless and stumbling. But most would simply disappear in the first tumble, winking out into a darkness deeper than the twilight — as if taken.

Seen through the window glass, it was like a movie. It reached them, but it did not. They saw the distant pair of wings but did not feel the wind those wings made. They saw the creatures struck, but did not feel the jaws that tore them. There was nothing to hear, nothing to smell. They took it in with their eyes and were safe. As long as they remained in their rooms — his generators working for them, the food and water and first-aid supplies replenishing themselves somehow in the storeroom he had built for them — they were safe.

When the great shadow passed overhead, however, it was different. The glass could not protect them. It was not a movie, not at all. Sometimes the thing came from the universe beyond The Door, from the endless twilight and dark cliffs. Sometimes it came from his own world, as if returning from a long journey. Whatever the direction, both worlds shook — cliffs and buildings and skies and Door — and the twilight flickered, turned grainy, and for a moment was blacker than any night.

He thought of it simply as The Shadow.

When it came, the building rocked. It reached through the glass; it grabbed them both by their very souls; and they trembled, knew fear, and forgot the old script.

The window was their agreement. It had worked for weeks.

They waited. They jerked. A single cry from the baby’s room reached them; they held their breaths, and the cry did not come again. Sometimes the baby could sleep through the rocking of the building, the flickering of the universes. Sometimes the slightest sound would wake it.

Joanna was the baby’s name. When he thought about her, it was as if she were someone else’s. As if the woman beside him were someone else’s wife. Had they ever laughed? He could not remember.

They waited. He felt her stiffen and thought it was coming at last. But then he heard what she was hearing. The scratching at the door. They held their breaths again, together. There was a cry — not from the baby’s room this time — and then it was gone. Silence came back.

Once, a little later, he thought he could feel the building tremble. But it was only the woman beside him, shifting on the couch. It wasn’t going to come.

Even if it did, it wouldn’t work this time.

He couldn’t remember the last time it had worked — for him.

He felt her against him, her shoulder warm. It made no difference.


This story copyright © 1987 by Bruce McAllister. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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