When the wind howled outside, drowning out the Christmas music coming out of his hand-crank emergency radio, Elliot wrapped his dirty blanket more tightly around himself and stared out the window. Even by the light of his sputtering candles he could see that the snow that had been steadily falling all night had begun to creep up to the midpoint of his windows. If the windows he was looking out of hadn't belonged to the house's second story, this might not have seen so strange.
Elliot had been forced to abandon the ground floor months earlier, around the time when his house's southward drift had caught the public eye and a popular photo of his abode made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, dispelling the soothing fog of anonymity that generally surrounded someone as mousey and boring as Elliot was. Now people passing by stared in, not only because a house slowly sinking into the earth was such an unusual sight, but because they were eager to see the man who stubbornly refused to abandon the property.
One blog he'd read, before the power and gas companies both dropped him as a customer on the grounds that leaving the power or gas on would be inviting fire, compared him to the Titanic's captain, a man who had gone down with his ship a full century earlier. Other people were not shy about speculating what reason Elliot might have to stay in his obviously doomed house, and those who did not suspect an undiagnosed mental illness tended towards pity: They thought of him as a victim of circumstance, as a man who literally had nowhere else to go.
Although Elliot preferred the pity to reticule, the way one might prefer moldy bread to moldy meat, he also felt an overwhelming reciprocal pity for both those who in their way supported him and his detractors too. None of them had any sense of the true reason he refused to leave his house no matter how low it sank into the ground, and tomorrow morning would find them all in a world of hurt and pain if indeed it found any of them at all.
Back before his life had begun to mostly consist of reading and trying to find new ways of jazzing up foods that came out of boxes cold, Elliot had been a scholar. No one peering in the windows and catching sight of a pale stubbled face or shoulders wrapped in a plaid blanket would believe that the body parts they could barely make out in the house's scant light belonged to a man who held a PhD In world history.
He had never been the life of a party, not even amongst his equally bookish peers, but Elliot had been respectable once, if not well-liked. His colleagues occasionally came to him with questions, and his students always gave end of the semester reviews that indicated that he was an apt if not exciting educator. His life had been normal if a little predictable and more than a little lonely.
All that had changed the December before when a website that tried to pass itself off as a news source rather than the entertainment gig it was ran an article about the end of the Mayan calendar. Reading it, Elliot had first laughingly dismissed it, but it got under his skin. Late that same night he'd found himself getting out of bed and pawing through his books, looking for references to the ancient civilization that had been wiped out of existence long before their calendar predicted they'd meet their end.
He'd stayed up all night, then, and at six had been so red-eyed that he'd barely been able to make out the numbers on his phone when he dialed to call in for what was at that moment an almost unheard of sick day. But other days soon followed as he became obsessed with studying the Mayans and became more convinced that the popular conceit that another calendar would have followed had they not been the victims of genocide was a candy coating dipped onto the truth by academics too scared to admit that a population of people they considered charmingly primitive had had the right idea.
Eventually Elliot's obsession had predictable results, and the university included his position amongst those that they axed in the name of cost saving methods. If he'd secured tenure they wouldn't have been able to be so easily rid of him, but he'd only been teaching for a handful of years, so the union claimed that their hands were tied. Not that he'd demanded an explanation or assistance: Elliot hadn't been bothered by his dismissal because he wanted the extra time to study, anyway.
As soon as he'd been released from his duties at the end of the spring semester, Elliot began to devote most of his waking hours to trying to figure out how the Mayans had made their prediction so many centuries earlier. By then he was no longer remotely skeptical about the veracity of their prediction. Instead he just wanted to know how they had figured out that the world was coming to an end in 2012.
Because the end of everything was a forgone conclusion as far as he was concerned, Elliot was not dismayed in late May when a mailman dropping of a new book he'd ordered pointed out that the house seemed to have shifted. He'd merely agreed with the man that it did seem to be a few inches shorter than it ought to be, and had taken his new book inside to peruse.
As the months passed, two things happened: Elliot found himself increasingly obsessive about what he considered his "work" and the house continued its downward drift, much like a quicksand victim panicking in the old black and white adventure films Elliot's father had been obsessed with before lung cancer carried him, and Elliot's mother too, away.
Elliot had always been rather shy, so he had faced a moral quandary when it had become clear to him that the world was coming to an end: was it his moral duty to inform others that some event (even in December he was still undecided as to what he thought it would be) would destroy the world? Being a harbinger of doom and dismay was hardly the sort of thing a man like him took on willingly, after all. A nagging sense of duty propelled him to at least try, so whenever some concerned soul came to talk to him about the sad state of his ever-sinking house, he earnestly explained that a house slowly being swallowed by the Earth's gapping maw was the least of his problems, and theirs too.
To say that people were not receptive of his warning would be a gigantic understatement and after a couple of worried people tried to suggest he get therapy, he decided that he better try to avoid being on the radar of the mental health network and keep the knowledge to himself. In the end warning people didn't seem to serve much of a purpose anyway. What could people do with the information? It wasn't as though we'd gotten around to colonizing mars, so there was no option but to stay and die.
In what felt like a tacit agreement, people decided they were quit of him too when he gave up on them. If he'd been more of a social being the cutting of all ties would have hurt more, but as it was it remained a manageable if dull and nagging ache. There was really nothing left for him to offer people, so he allowed them their illusions, let them plan for Christmas, for New Years, for next summer with just a sad knowing smile. It might have been a comfort to reach out to someone, but he couldn't. Not any more. Not knowing what he did.
Despite his acceptance of this self-imposed isolation, realizing that telling people about the coming danger would change nothing left Elliot in a permanent state of despair. Despite using a considerable amount of his savings, none of the books he devoured had a solid idea of what would end it all, so it wasn't like he could warn the government and encourage someone, anyone, to take action against whatever was going to kill them all. By Halloween he was swathed in a sense of nihilism that was so thorough Nietzsche would have been envious. The people who pitied him didn't realize that he could have left at any time but simply failed to see what the point of leaving would have been. He might have been more comfortable elsewhere, but no safer.
Truly, the only thing that kept him from climbing through a window and heading to a gun store was the perverse need to see it through to the end. He wanted to see that he was right. It was wrong and terrible to feel that way, but he couldn't help it any more than a James Bond villain could help being evil.
As the days slide towards the inevitable, Elliot found himself increasingly inert. He endured the lights going out, the water stopping when the house's movement ruptured and severed its connection to the well in the backyard. His brain learned to become indifferent to his belly's insistent cries and he lost fifty pounds that hadn't been extra weight on his fame. Nothing really mattered except bearing witness to the inevitable because he'd come to realize that that was his role. Maybe he ought to have taken fiddle lessons back when he still bothered interacting with others.
Hours wore on during the night of December 21st and Elliot found himself becoming annoyed about the snow. It reduced visibility and was piling too high in the windows to let him continue his vigil with a clear line of sight. Eventually he decided that he would need to go down to the basement and find a snow shovel even if the thought of going so far underground made him break out into a cold sweat.
The trek to the basement had been scary and difficult with a feeling of suffocation as he went down into the parts of the house already entombed, and he'd been overwhelmed with relief when held returned to what was still higher ground. His next move was to pull on a coat that seldom left his sight lately before opening a window and squirming through it.
Despite the coat cold gnawed as his bones and he found himself repeating a bit of doggerel about the world ending in ice or fire as he worked to clear the snow from in front of the windows. It took a long time before he was satisfied and pushed his aching body back through the window, dragging snow in with him. At least he wouldn't have to worry about a mess he thought, because the end would be coming any time now.
Out of habit his eyes sought out his clock. The face read in its bright red font. His watch agreed that the battery-operated clock told the truth.
Elliot looked around his floundering house and began to sob in utter despair.
"How could you know what I need when I'm the last thing on your mind?" - Trapt, Disconnected