A tree was burning. It was already dead. The leaves had fallen away a long time ago. Life had drained out of it soon after. And now that tree was burning. Just the trunk was burning. The flames below affected none of the branches and or the roots. The flames just went on burning across the trunk. The crackle of the dry tree could be heard from quite a distance. Bits of flame fell on the ground, but none affected the roots. The roots and the branches remained safe. And the flame kept on burning. And then there was a great white light followed by complete darkness.
Jim woke up, screaming. That was the third night that he had had that dream. He didnt understand it. All he saw was a tree burning, or more appropriately, just the trunk. The roots and the branches were unharmed by the flames. The flame didnt grow. And then there was always a bright white light, followed by complete darkness. Thats when he would wake up every time, screaming.
The burning tree scared him. He tried to relate it to his life but it made no sense. He had tried telling his friends about it, but they just discounted it to be just a dumb dream. But he didnt believe that. Dumb dreams did not repeat themselves over 3 nights. And they didnt scare you in a crazy sort of way.
He got up out of bed and looked at the alarm clock. It was 3AM, the same time that he woke up every day. He would wake up at the same time for reasons that he still didnt comprehend. It was all a mystery. Then the phone rang. He wondered who would call at that time of night. He picked it up and said "Hello?" in as drowsy a tone as he could create.
"HI-EE!" the tone rang in his ears "Its me silly, Stacey! I just HAD to call you. I couldnt sleep and thought that it was because of you"
"Really? Surprise, surprise!"
"Dont be so sarcastic. If you dare use that tone with me when were married, I wont talk to you"
"Hey! Dont get so uptight! Its 3AM. Im not used to talking at this time. Im not even up at this time. Come to think of it, no sane person is up at this time"
"You are very funny, did you know that? I guess Im just worried about the wedding"
"Dont worry about the wedding! Its going to be fine. Man-eating aliens are not going to come from the sky. Nothing is going to happen. Trust me"
"I cant help it"
"Stacey, the wedding is in 4 hours and I want to look my best when I get there. If I go on talking to you now, Im going to look like Jerry Springer!"
"Ok, Ill talk to you later, Mr. Springer of Las Vegas"
"Not later, after 4 hours. And dont be late. Bye"
Stacey was a crazy person. That was exactly the reason why Jim loved her. She just thought in a crazy way. And that really made him feel great. The wedding location was an example of that craziness. She wanted to get married in the desert. So they found a piece of land outside Las Vegas where they could get married.
Jim wanted to sleep, but knew that if he tried, he would probably get up after 5 minutes or 5 hours. If he got up after 5 minutes, trying to sleep would be futile. And if he got up after 5 hours, well, he didnt want to take that risk. He turned on the bedside table lamp and covered his eyes once the lamp lit up. After a while, he was used to the light and uncovered his eyes. He could see his room now. It was a soft shade of yellow, sort of like banana custard. It was Staceys choice.
Jim felt like eating. He got up, wore his robe and made his way to the kitchen downstairs. He nearly tripped on his trip down the stairs. He stopped and regained his balance and made his way down. When he went into the kitchen, he turned the light on and saw empty bottles of beer lying on the kitchen table. The bachelor party was nice, a lot of drunk people singing "We are the world".
He wasnt worried about the mess. After the marriage, Stacey and he had a flight to Acapulco. They would be there for three weeks and he knew that his mother would definitely come by to check if the place was ok when they were gone. Shed do the cleaning and the house would be perfect again.
Jim went to the refrigerator and saw nothing but a half-full bottle of milk, 2 slices of bread and a miniature piece of cheese. He made some space on the table for his meal and then pulled out the milk, bread and cheese. It was going to be a "nutritious" start to the day. He took a swig of the milk and then nibbled at the cheese like a mouse. He was thinking, not something he did very often.
He thought about Stacey and about their marriage. After 6 years of being engaged he had to propose marriage to her. They had waited long enough, he thought. He knew her very well. He knew about many of her idiosyncrasies like the fact that she used to look at the stars and then the moon and then ALWAYS order a pizza. It was weird. He never understood it, but he didnt mind. He liked it. He liked eating pizza, so whenever he wanted pizza all he would do was ask her to look at the stars with him. And that was that.
He looked up at the stars through the window. He saw too many stars to count. And in their midst the moon was full and bright. It was a perfect night. He turned on the radio next to him and heard that song he thought was from the movie "City of Angels" where the singer kept on saying "I dont wanna wait ". That song really sounded beautiful. The funny thing was that that was the song that was playing on the radio when he realised that he had been engaged for 6 years to a wonderful girl and he "didnt wanna wait".
He took a swig of the milk bottle and realised there was none left. He put it with the empty beer bottles. He was so awake. He couldnt go to sleep, even if he wanted to. He sat there and looked at the now tinier piece of cheese and the two slices of bread. He tore the crust of the edges of the bread and nibbled at that. He wasnt in the mood to eat normal bread. He felt like eating the crust of a stuffed crust pizza. But he didnt know the pizza places phone number. That was Staceys job.
He wondered what it would be like after they were married. He would be working at the office as usual. He had a consulting firm. That was where the money was and that is why he chose that job. And Stacey would work at the pharmacy. She had a degree in pharmacy and loved the job. Life would be like it always was. The only difference would be that at the end of the day, they would go back to the same place and would be together till the next day. They would be husband and wife. He laughed. That actually sounded funny. It was funny to think that he was going to be married to Stacey after all this time.
He looked down at the table and saw that he had eaten all the bread crust there was and that he had nibbled the cheese away as well. The clock said it was 4:30. He knew that meant 3:30. Stacey had set the clock to be an hour ahead, so she would always be ready for anything an hour earlier. That was yet another one of her oddities. He knew the whole lot of them. He laughed a silent laugh and got up to go to the living room.
When he saw the living room, one thought entered his mind, "YIKES!" The place was a complete mess. There were bottles of beer on the floor, the sofas, everywhere. It was like there had been a "Thank-God-For-Beer" party. He was surprised that he didnt have a hangover. He felt like he hadnt drunk at all. Yet he knew he had and that disturbed him. He was hoping that the hangover wasnt waiting to come up and haunt him later in the day.
The radio in the kitchen was playing "Fields of Gold" by Sting. He was surprised they were playing such an old song. They usually played much newer stuff. He looked around the living room and sighed in disgust. His mom was going to have tough job cleaning this place. And he didnt have to worry the least bit about it. That was the sweetest thing about the whole matter. A wry smile appeared on his face as he turned around to go back to bed. Even if he couldnt and wouldnt sleep, he would catch up on some reading.
When he reached the bed, he felt tired and sleepy. Not wanting to give up the opportunity to sleep, he set the alarm clock to 5:30AM and jumped on the bed. The next moment, he was asleep and oblivious to the world around him. He was oblivious to the lightning and thunder and to the rain that followed.
When Jim woke up, the alarm was sounding that infernal sound. He felt like pulling a hammer from somewhere and smashing it to pieces. Then he realised that it was 6:30AM and that he only had half an hour till the wedding. "DAMN!" was the only word that rung through his head. He jumped out of bed and realised that the hangover had arrived. It hurt badly. He stumbled across to the bathroom to take some aspirin and then hurried up to get ready. He fell over a couple of times but somehow regained a fairly good sense of balance so he could get ready.
At 6:45AM, there was a ring of the doorbell. The door opened and in walked his dad and the best man, his best friend, Roger. "Hello? Anyone at home", Jims dad shouted and then said to Roger "He really shouldnt leave the door open like that. What if there was a prowler around?"
Roger reaffirmed Jims dad "Dont worry. This just happened this time and Im sure Jim is much more careful than that. Im going to check up on him"
"Ok. Tell him to hurry up. We only have 15 minutes to get to the reception and itll take that long to get to there. Oh my lord! What a mess!"
Roger laughed to himself as he jumped up the stairs. He knocked on the bedroom door and Jim said, "Come in"
Roger opened the door and saw Jim struggling to put on his jacket. After achieving the task, Jim turned to Roger and asked, "How do I look?"
"Just like a bridegroom is supposed to look. Are you ready?"
"Yup! Lets rock and roll. The time has come" Jim answered.
"Then lets go. We dont have too much time to get there. I think for the first time in the history of marriages the bride is going to be early and the groom is going to be late"
"Im sure there have been others. Lets go"
Jim and Roger ran down the stairs, called Jims dad, who was inspecting the mess and rushed out the door. They hopped in the car. Roger took the wheel and stepped on the acceleration as hard as he could. They, literally, zoomed out of Jims driveway and onto the road. They zoomed down the road on the way to the reception.
Roger was going as fast as he could without being caught for speeding. Jim, who was sitting in the backseat with his dad, was thinking that that was it. He was finally going to get married to the girl he wanted to be in his dreams. It wasnt his fault that all he saw was a burning tree. He quickly changed his line of thought and thought about his "nutritious" breakfast. He could still remember how that piece of cheese tasted. He didnt know it then, but he remembered that the cheese wasnt yellow, but slightly greenish. He then remembered that it had been in the fridge for 4 weeks. He felt sick.
He looked out the window and saw everything rush by. The trees alongside the road were flying. The road was flying under his feet. His dad and Roger were both quiet. Jim guessed that they were thinking that the marriage had finally come and it was just minutes away. Jim looked at his watch and saw that they had 1 minute till the scheduled time. They werent too far away though.
He noticed that they had reached the desert. There were a few dead trees and some birds and Roger slammed on the brakes so that both, Jim and his dad, fell out of their seats. Before they could shout, Roger jumped out and they realised they had reached their destination. Jim and his dad jumped out. Jim and Roger ran down the aisle as fast as they could with all the guests following them with their eyes. Jims dad had a bit of a problem running at their speed.
Jim and Roger reached the end of the aisle and stood still as if they had been waiting for 3 hours there. The pianist played the tune and Stacey began her walk down the aisle. Jim looked at her and was so glad that he was just moments away from being married to the woman he loved, who knew the phone number of the pizza place. Stacey walked down the aisle slowly and with pride. She was smiling beneath her veil and she knew Jim knew it.
Jim followed her with his eyes and was smiling a smile wider than if the Pacific Ocean ever smiled. And then he stopped! He noticed, out of the corner of his eye, a burning tree. The tree was dead and just the trunk was burning. The branches, which were bare, and the roots, were unaffected. His heart started pounding at his ribs. He started breathing much faster. The priest, who noticed his attention towards the tree, spoke "Dont worry about that weird tree. There was a storm last night. It probably got set on fire by a bolt of lightning, although it is strange that only the trunk is burning"
Jim looked at the priest and nodded slowly. And then he realised that Stacey was at his side. He turned around to the priest and the ceremony began.
All through the ceremony, Jim kept on looking at the tree through the corner of his eye. He was able to control his facial expressions and was smiling on the outside. But inside, he was petrified. He didnt know what was going on or what was going to happen. In the meantime, Stacey and he exchanged vows and rings. The priest would now finally declare them husband and wife. Jims attention was completely diverted now to the priest and his "to-be-declared" wife. He looked at her face and then at the priest. The words left the priest mouth. It had happened. The priest said that Jim could kiss the bride. He lifted her veil and kissed her. And then there was a bright white light and finally darkness.
The nuclear explosion killed everyone in the city of lights. Nuclear explosions also destroyed Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Boston, New York and Washington. Millions died in the explosions. And billions died in the third world war that followed. But neither Jim nor Stacey cared. They were dead but their last thoughts were that they were with the person they loved the most, each other. And they would be together forever more.