Remley’s number-one favorite all-time Christmas present, the hand-built Doomsday Kit, was stored in a heavy black footlocker in Remley’s basement. He and Tom each took an end and hauled it up the stairs while Ellen held the doors. Tom explained, as best he could between labored breaths, the origins of the kit to Ellen.
“So, sometimes my uncle would get things in the shop that weren’t one-hundred percent legal,” Tom said. “The sheriff’s department got to know him real well—he was the guy who showed up once a month with a trunk full of AK-47s, mortar shells, and the occasional suitcase stuffed with coke.”
“Jesus,” said Remley. “I have got to go to more auctions.”
“Sometimes I’d intercept a couple things,” Tom continued. “I’m not crazy about weapons. Too broad a tool. Too easy to stick one in every kit and call it a problem solved.”
“Guns are too broad,” Ellen said, “but liquor and pills—can’t have enough of ’em.”
He ignored her. “Still, in certain situations, it can’t be avoided. And one of those situations happened to be a big concern for Remley here.”
Remley set down his end of the footlocker and looked at Ellen, sadly. “Armageddon. Freaks me out, you know? I mean, obviously I’m getting left behind when Jesus returns, so I’d like to at least be ready for it.”
She couldn’t tell if he was serious, but the footlocker made the case that he was.
“I worked on this, I don’t know, for a full year?” Tom said. “Lots of goodies. Lots of what you need when the shit hits the fan.”
“Tom, tell me what’s in that box.”
“Calm down, lady,” Remley said. He nodded toward her pocket. “Not like you’re running around unarmed of late.”
They wrestled the footlocker the rest of the way into Remley’s living room, leaving it to rest beside his coffee table. Remley pulled out his keys and began picking through them until he found the small silver one that would pop open the padlock.
“I have been so good,” Remley said. “Never even peeked.”
“Good for you,” said Tom.
The lock popped and Remley swung it open and tossed it to Ellen. Then he opened the footlocker. The contents were hidden beneath a black velvet blanket, but sitting on top was an envelope.
“What’s this?” Remley picked it up and held it front of a lamp. “Instructions?”
Tom shook his head and took the envelope from Remley. “To be honest, I never thought you’d see this.”
He held out his hand to Ellen. It took her a moment to realize he was asking for her knife. Carefully easing the blade beneath a paper lip, Tom slit the envelope open.
“And I certainly didn’t think I’d be here if you did read it.”
“Read what? Give it to me!” Remley clapped his hands. “I can’t take the suspense!”
Tom handed over the envelope, then returned the knife to Ellen. They watched Remley as he carefully tapped out the contents—a folded up sheet of notebook paper, the spiral-torn edge still jagged along one side. Remley started at the bottom, then scanned the middle, followed finally by the top. Then he read it again, this time in order.
“Oh god, Tom.”
“What is it?” Ellen asked. “What’s it say?”
Remley looked at Tom and coughed, then coughed again. He put a hand over his throat. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “Little trouble here.”
Tom waved him off. “Don’t sweat it.”
“Jesus,” said Ellen. “Would you tell me what the fuck he’s reading?”
“It’s a goodbye,” Tom said. “Those are my last words to Jon Remley.”