Cave by Matt Gulley

Doug was living in a cave when the end came, thunder wrestling through the sky. His cell phone lost service. It wouldn’t take much time for the party to really begin.

Due to same lax oversight from NASA, hundreds of satellites were veering off path. Maybe that was uncharitable to NASA. Gravity had relaxed. In the preceding weeks, the general population started to notice. Tik-Tok stars began posting super-dunk videos. Athletic young men took off from half-court. Cute grannies with shriveled calves held regulation basketballs with both hands and floated just above regulation rims, racking up millions of views and likes. Most commercial flights were grounded, taking off had become easier (though reptilian-brained number crunchers with medium souls, tucked away in the silent wings of tall office towers, did calculate this could increase profits by reducing fuel costs) but landing was very difficult. There were regular overshoots of the runway which required pilots to turn around and try again with good old-fashioned feel instead of relying on computers. People in fashionable New York City apartments noted their air plants had begun to waft out of their small ceramic cylinders. Loving boyfriends would tenderly but firmly fuck themselves into the humid air above their beds while their loving girlfriends would look up at them from missionary positions wide-eyed and open-legged. Troubled souls attempting suicide would simply step off window ledges and travel down vertically with a casualness that allowed them to touch the ground and stride away embarrassed but unharmed. Tourists on a sky-diving run would often miss their train to the next city.

Doug knew that this would all be dangerous fun for a while, but when taking a moment sitting at his desk to ponder the eventual ramifications, he concluded this would lead to civilizational collapse. Satellites, which he sometimes designed or consulted on, would begin to wobble out of orbit, and either spin out into space or fall into the moon’s pull instead. Skeleton governments could attempt international diplomacy conducted through landlines and morse code, but there was simply too much reliance on satellite networks. It would be too great a shock to the system. The stock market would crash, mass joblessness in the upper-middle classes would disrupt already fragile political systems, leading to power grabs and hysteria and terror, a most violent manifestation of fear.

Doug was of two minds. Half his brain knew this was just conjecture, he was philosophizing a bit, maybe, but in the other half of his brain he knew he was exactly correct. It was a certainty. There was nothing that anyone, most specifically himself, could do about it. The course would be run. He thought then about telling people that modern life was over. He thought about telling his boss first, a thought that would make him laugh only a few minutes later. He thought about his co-workers, his family, the woman he had a few overly-mannered dinners with who gave him a blowjob on his couch after they watched Love, Actually. He was a good kisser, and she got really turned on by his kisses and his hands but didn’t want to go all the way, not just yet.

Then he realized it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if anyone knew or not, whether they could store food or try to align themselves with the winning side, whomever was the stronger and more sadistic tribe of modern people. They could turn to guns and farmland, or turn towards empathy to maintain community, or listen to elders who had actually been alive the last time it all came apart – but ultimately it would not matter. It was all going to run its course. They were all going to perish very differently than what they imagined it would be like in their formerly comfortable lives, even if at the time they couldn’t admit to themselves that it was what-dying-would-be-like that they were imagining while they took meditative shits, or rode in slow elevators, or looked off for just a moment while wrapping Christmas presents. That it would be different now was something better not knowing, just for a few more days or hours of blissful unawareness that this was ending. Whatever this had been, it was not going to be.

Doug just stood up at his desk, grabbed his coat, and left. He went back to his apartment to pace around a while. He checked his phone. He looked at a map. He filled his backpack to the brim with dried food and socks and walked to the large park at the edge of the city. While he was on the train, he looked at a family: a father with daughters on each side of him, slumped towards him in delicate sleep while he also slept with his arms around them, head back and up. It struck him as a religious pose. Doug felt he might cry, but the feeling passed.

This was a big park; it was owned by the state. It was a favorite of the outdoorsy, a favorite of hikers, nature-lovers, and high school athletic directors whom were responsible for organizing large cross-country running meets. Doug was a regular. He knew a cave he thought would be the most appropriate place – dry and quiet and away from people. He had been by the cave many times, it was on his usual route, the mouth in a big rock face that opened up into the dark. The ground was flat, even, and moss and leaves and small plants gave it an air of comfort. Doug laid down and, using his backpack as a pillow, started napping.

In the evening, he was woken up to the sounds of two people near him. It was two lovers; they must’ve known this space. Doug stood up and told them to get the hell out of here. They were genuinely frightened, and then pissed off, they hadn’t noticed him there. They left and in leaving one of them turned to him and called him a fucking caveman and said you don’t own the woods, buddy. It was true, but they had to go all the same. Further away one said to the other quietly ‘I think I know him.’

Doug was fully awake now, apparently not away-from-it-all as he thought. A storm was rolling in. He checked his phone, there was no service. He laid back down and put a flashlight on his chest and had some trail mix out of a tin. He began to read.



Matt Gulley is a poet, playwright, and fiction writer. He attended Wayne State University in Detroit and currently resides in Brooklyn with his partner Jenna. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Moon City Review, The Madrigal, The Minnesota Review, and Consequence Forum. Find him @selfawareroomba on Twitter or on Bluesky.