Please wait...

Nearer My God to Thee

Nearer my god to thee

Estimated reading time — 13 minutes

“Here we go,” Robert says, staring at the national broadcast system warning as it flashes across the TV screen. He sits in his dad’s old blue recliner wondering if he should be more worried. The world as he knows it is coming to an end and he rests in the Lysol scented chair where his dad died of Covid a few years earlier.

He blinks, understanding on some level that he is beyond the point of rational thought, beyond the point of worry.

It’s a release, really.

“This is not a test,” scrolling words on the TV proclaim over and over in bright buzzing red letters while an eerie robotic voice explains that instructions are forthcoming.

Robert is at his parents’ empty house in the middle of nowhere, Iowa. Gravel roads and corn abound. The smell of cow shit hangs in the air. The smell of cow shit always hangs in the air. Despite this, it feels like home. Sure, Robert didn’t grow up here, but photographic memories cling to every wall and a feeling of tranquility lingers in every room, despite how the last few years have played out.

It’s the perfect place for what he wants to do.

He thinks the fact that his parents’ little retirement acreage still has cable is kind of amazing. Though his mom has only been dead for a few weeks, on his way here, Robert thought he’d show up to a house void of power, water, cable, and anything else she was supposed to pay for. The way his crazy sisters and their crazy husbands burned through their parents’ money, especially after his dad died, he thought he’d arrive to a husk of a home with only the sub-sub-basement bomb shelter to remind him that someone he loved had once lived here. He also thought his twenty-four year old niece would be waiting for him, crying because everything was gone or destroyed. She is his only family member who hasn’t completely gone off the deep end.

But no. Except for the dog that he brought, he is alone in the house. And everything here is a go.

Power. Water. Cable. It’s all on, even as the rest of the world completely loses its shit. What’s weirder is that the bomb shelter is far from being cleaned out. It’s ready with all the provisions and gas powered machinery a family of six would need to survive the apocalypse for Robert doesn’t know how many years.

“Glad Mom at least paid her bills in advance, huh Lump?” Robert says to a twenty pound pile of fawn colored fur and fat flaps wearing a black mask. Apparently his only family left, she’s a French bulldog, an indulgence purchased at the height of Covid, before society grew really dark, before his dad died of that disease, and the rest of his family went into full QAnon conspiracy theorist mode.

The television warning cuts away, pulling Robert’s attention to a silent live wide shot video feed of Washington DC. It looks nice there. It’s sunny. Early autumn pleasant. Kind of like it is out here. It’s something Robert might have seen at the beginning of a local newscast if he lived in the DC area. However, when the camera pans in he can see the flooded streets are ablaze with panic. People scurry from shop front to shop font, pulling on doors, crying, smashing windows. Cars move at a turtle’s pace. People fight. He can’t pull his eyes from a lone woman who is clearly screaming at the top of her lungs while clutching a baby to her breast. It’s like something out of a bad end of the world movie.

He has to laugh.

The word, “bedlam” comes to mind when a silent explosion takes it all in a sudden, blazing white light that Robert almost wishes he could hear bang and sizzle. It would be less surreal that way. It is so powerful he thinks he can smell the unnatural burning even though he knows that’s impossible. He is certain the television is going to shatter.

It doesn’t.

Instead, the white fades to black then lifts to a well lit CNN studio.

Christiane Amanpour, wearing a sad smile and a disheveled blue suit, says with a husky, trembling voice, “That’s it. I’m sure our turn is coming soon.” Her eyes add, “I told you this was going to happen,” but she offers a pathetic wave, and signs off from a glowing blue and red news desk that mocks what Robert––what most of mankind––has just witnessed. As the screen once again fades to black, Robert hears some mumbling from the television’s speakers, something about more bombs falling.

It’s cut by a series of gunshots and screams.

Then nothing.

This is expected. Robert is only surprised it took so long to happen after everything that went down in New York a few weeks earlier. Resigned, he looks down at Lump. She looks up, blinks.

“I’m sorry no one is here,” he tells her. He doesn’t want to, but he glances out the window and down the road. He doesn’t want to, but he hopes he sees his niece’s little blue electric Nissan speeding his way. He doesn’t want to, but he wishes someone would save him from himself.

There is no little blue electric Nissan. No one ever comes out here. That’s probably the only reason everything is intact.

Robert is certain that, aside from his niece, those family members he last knew were alive and not in prison are most certainly dead. He doesn’t even want to think about what those family members in prison are going through during these last few moments of history.

“Guess we’re going to have to do this.” One hand in his pocket, Robert wraps his fingers around the butt of a Sig P938. “I’m sorry girl. It’s just easier,” he adds to Lump. “Even if the bomb shelter saves us from what’s coming, do you really want to be alive for what’s next?” With his free hand, he pets her head. She stretches up toward his open palm. A tear dots the corner of his right eye. “At least we’re alive,” he jokes. “For-”

White noise booms from the TV speakers.

Robert leaps to his feet, afraid for the first time since his dad died. It is a strange sensation, unfamiliar but with hints of familiarity, somehow new and old simultaneously, like a long lost blanket discovered at the bottom of a plastic tub in the back of a packed garage. He thinks this sensation should be hot.

It’s cold.

The TV screen springs to life with the black and white static of a pre-recorded 1980s VHS tape. Jagged black lines and chunks flip and flop in a sea of white and gray angles until a video of a military band playing “Nearer My God to Thee” sharply cuts through the static. It’s an old recording, grainy, broken. But the band sounds and looks fair. Their uniforms are pressed and sharp. Their instruments sparkle in pleasant, slightly overcast sunshine. They perform in dignified formation in front of four massive white pillars on the Turner Broadcasting Mansion. The mansion itself is a reddish-brownish-orangish brick monstrosity with white trim that Robert thinks someone in the 80s thought was cool. Probably Ted Turner. He only thinks this––in fact, he only knows it’s his mansion––because he remembers his family driving through Atlanta on their way to the ocean one summer. They had stopped to see it because, he thinks, that’s the kind of thing relatively well-off people did in the 80s. And they had been relatively well-off in the 80s. When they returned home, his dad had forced the family to watch all of his video tapes of their trip over and over. He remembers this building clearly.

Something like a laugh escapes his lips, something like a shriek.

“The 80s,” Robert says sardonically, remembering vague, hot afternoons in his elementary classroom hiding underneath a desk during the duck-and-cover drills of the Cold War. He still has no idea why they did that. Even as a first grader he knew damn well a public elementary school desk wasn’t going to do shit against a nuclear warhead.

Lump stands on her hind legs and nudges his thigh.

The video loops.

The circular reflecting pool before the band unnerved Robert when he was a child. And it unnerves him again today. As bombs fall everywhere––and Robert knows they are even if he can’t hear or see them––he thinks a military band playing what he believes is a Christian dirge over and over is appropriate. But the way he can sort of make out the band’s reflection in the water is not.

It’s like a mockery of life; it’s like his current existence.

Still, “It can’t be real,” he says. So it doesn’t matter.

Nothing matters anymore.

Not in this world.

He fiddles with the Sig’s hammer and turns away from the midshot of a woman elegantly conducting, her hands moving like gentle waves, from the zoom out of the drumline, their stoic expressions melting into the distance. He wants to do what he came here to do. He can’t though. “Nearer My God to Thee” won’t let him. It’s hypnotic. It shouldn’t be.

Robert turns back to it.

He thinks anyone who survives this whole mess is someone he doesn’t want to meet. Hell, he hasn’t wanted to meet most people for awhile, definitely since the ocean rose those few inches in those few months and all the people from the coasts wormed their way into the Midwest like a bunch of backward sharecroppers from the 1920s. The angrier Midwesterners call those folks “coasters” and mean it as an insult. Robert thinks there should be plenty of room, but what does he know?

He wraps his fingers around the gun in his pocket. It’s cold. It’s hard. It’s determined. He can’t remember the last time he was happy. Before his dad’s Covid to be sure. Before the pseudo-religious idea that world leaders somehow wanted to kill everyone dug its way into his sisters’ hearts, was passed on to his mom and brother-in-laws, and ultimately led a few of them to jail and a few others to the grave.

He has to do it.

But this.

“Nearer My God to Thee.”

On repeat.

He grabs the remote from the little heart shaped end table his father carved years earlier. A pang of loss hits him when his fingertips tap its smooth wooden surface. Memories of his father carving, sanding, and building in that shed he called a workshop drift into the sandbar of his brain. He crumbles back into the chair. Lump falls down, her claws dragging across Robert’s old blue jeans.

Robert changes the channel.

His breath catches in his throat.

“Nearer My God to Thee.”

The breath escapes. Tears fall. Hands shake.

The gun feels colder in his pocket. Heavier.

Robert changes the channel again. The dam has broken. More tears fall down his cheeks, wetting his shirt with tiny splotches of misery and fear.

And there’s so much snot.

He changes the channel again.

“Nearer My God to Thee.”

He shakes his head, saying, “No, no, no, no,” until he can’t speak anymore.

Lump tries to climb into his lap but tumbles to the floor.

Robert sobs.

He changes the channel again.

“Nearer My God to Thee.”

He tries the volume button.

It works.

Relieved, he coughs and cries and coughs, wiping his nose and his cheeks then wiping his hands on his pants, then repeating the process.

Lump lets loose a confused little bark. It isn’t loud or obnoxious, like her barks usually are. It’s nervous. She spins in a panicky circle before him. She was already in a bad way when they arrived a few hours earlier and Robert sat down to watch the news, completely wrecking the original plan to arrive and kill themselves right away. According to Lump, running out of Oakview, NE in the middle of autumn was a bad trick. Running to Robert’s parents’ house hours away in Iowa was even worse. Finally, sitting and watching world leaders on the 24 hour news cycle scream about war and just causes and (ironically) the future of mankind, was the worst.

Robert needs to be here though. It is the place for this. It is the place for what he wants to do, what he has to do, what he needs to do before things get worse.

Wiping his wet eyes and cheeks and looking again at the TV, he sees the bright blue volume bar bounce up of its own volition, block by block.

“Nearer My God to Thee” plays again.

And plays.

And loops.

And plays.

And loops.

And gets louder and louder and louder.

Robert stops crying.

The TV’s volume hits its peak. “Nearer My God to Thee” envelops him.

With a deep sigh, Robert tries clicking the POWER button on the remote.

It works.

He’s not sure why he is surprised by this.

The immediate silence is insulting. Silent isn’t the right word for it though, not really. There is wind blowing outside, rustling the dried up corn stalks that litter the fields. Robert can hear the giant wind turbines working too. How that is happening is beyond him. Then there are the bugs buzzing somewhere nearby and cows mooing too.

There is so much life. Everything seems wrong.

With a soft click, the TV comes back to life and joins the noise.


The black screen glows for a moment before the band appears once more, playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Robert raises an eyebrow, certain he did not hit the POWER button.

Lump sneezes, staring up at him with large brown eyes.

Robert stands.

He clicks the POWER button again.

The TV plays.

“Nearer My God to Thee” won’t stop.

He tries again.

“Nearer My God to Thee” still plays.

He tries again, frustration forcing tears anew.

Lump barks.

Robert drops the remote. It lands on the rug and the back pops off, sending two batteries sprawling under the television stand. As he bends down to pick it all up, he notices something wrong with the broadcast. Well, he notices something more wrong.

“What the hell?” he says.

Lump barks.

Falling to his knees and scooting toward the TV to get a closer look, Robert cocks his head to the side and squints. He studies the band. The musicians’ uniforms are tattered and torn. Their brass instruments are dingy and in desperate need of polishing. Drums have ripped batter heads. Their tension rods are snapped. Drumsticks are broken into jagged, splintery messes. Worse than the clothes and the instruments are the faces. Where once they looked like normal people, if a bit blurry due to the low quality of the 1980s recording, now they are pale gray-skinned monsters. Black eyes leak translucent goo down crevices and back into bodies, an infinity of tears. Warped bones rip through saggy flesh as pieces of their skin flutter to the ground, nearly weightless.

Robert thinks of moth wings torn from their bodies and crushed in the hands of the boy who lived next door to him when he was five. He remembers the detritus falling from the boy’s slick, pink palm, the wings’ brown and gray beauty floating away like broken dreams.
Robert cries again, this time softly.

A gust of wind storms across the screen.

The band blows away.

“‘Dust in the Wind,’” Robert says to Lump in a low wavering voice, “might be a more appropriate song.” He sniffles.

Lump seems to nod.

Instruments fall, clanging loudly against one another as they smash into pieces on the ground. The house the band was playing in front of goes up in sparkling blue flames. White pillars burn black and crumble. Robert is certain he can smell smoke this time. Certain.
The music doesn’t stop.

Robert grabs the remote and struggles to reach the batteries.

He fails.

“Nearer My God to Thee” keeps playing even as the image on the screen melts away to reveal a fiery pit of brimstone and lava.

Frantic now, Robert digs behind the TV and pulls the plug.


Once more.


Outside the wind turbines still move, the bugs still chirp, the cows still moo, and unless his ears deceive him, even a few birds squawk. It almost seems louder than before. There might be a rumbling too, behind it all, as though something large and monstrous approaches.
Is that a car? Maybe it is his niece.

“Huh,” Robert says.

Lump does her best to wag her stumpy tail.

Robert wipes his face. His eyes feel dry. The air tastes metallic. He looks out the window. A truck drives by, speeding through the gravel and kicking up a storm of dust behind it. The shirtless man driving looks mad or scared or both.

“We need to do this,” Robert tells Lump after the truck disappears into the West, “but first a drink.” As he heads for the kitchen, Lump scrambles along at his feet.

Robert studies her for a moment, unsure if he is happy or sad that she is all he has here at the end of the world, wondering if what he wants to do is right.

When he approaches the kitchen door, he hears the television come to life again. He pauses. Lump pauses behind him.

As one, they turn toward the sound of a man’s voice.

“. . . what you have just witnessed is CNN’s final broadcast,” the man says in a somewhat nasally, high pitched tone. There is a hint of southern drawl, but it seems forced, like he’s trying too hard, like he’s a little smug and overconfident in his fake accent. Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins comes to mind, only southern instead of cockney. “If you’re still listening, you’re still alive and that’s a good thing.”

“That’s funny,” Robert says to Lump.


“I have planned this for decades,” the man goes on.

Robert approaches the living room and studies the television. It’s Ted Turner but not as he was before he died a couple years earlier, all used up and dry. It’s Ted Turner as he was in 1980. He’s fairly young, vibrant, and in some unquantifiable way, a little off. It is as though Ted Turner on the unplugged television at the end of the world is of the uncanny valley.

Which, Robert thinks, makes sense.

“Hello young man,” Ted says, waving to Robert. “I’m Ted Turner.”

“I know,” Robert says, returning the wave. “Hello.”

“You know?” He seems delighted.

Robert shrugs. “I visited your mansion when I was a kid. I remember that face.” He points at the TV. “I also remember seeing it all over when you died.”

“Well that’s good.” Ted laughs, completely unperturbed by the fact that he’s dead.

“What is going on?” Robert asks. “You’ve been planning this?” He points out the window.

“Oh, not the war or all of that mess with the climate,” Ted says and laughs indulgently. “The music, the video, the show!” He seems a little too excited. “I’m so happy you’re alive!”

“Are you?” Robert asks. “Alive, I mean, because I thought you were dead.”

Lump barks.

“It’s complicated,” Ted says.

“What’s going on?”

“It’s the end of the world, son. Bombs are a-fallin’.”

“I know that,” Robert says. “I watched one hit DC. Then I watched your ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ video like a hundred times.”

“It’s great, isn’t it?”

“No.” Robert sniffles again and hates himself a little for it.

Ted laughs again. “Things are about to get ugly.”

“They already are.”

“Oh,” Ted says, “you have no idea, boy. You don’t want to miss it though. Throw that damn gun away and get into the bomb shelter before what’s coming gets here.” He winks and points out the window.

The TV clicks off before Robert can ask how Ted knows he has a gun.

Robert looks out the window. There is nothing out of the ordinary except, he thinks, for the total silence. It isn’t like it was a few moments ago. Everything has stopped. No animals make animal noises. No wind turbines make wind turbine noises. It’s “eye of the storm” still. And there is a new smell. It’s no longer metallic, but heavy, like burnt eggs, a stench he’ll never get out of his clothes, a stench that’s larger than this world.

“Shit,” Robert says.

Lump whines.

Robert picks her up. He reaches into his pocket for the gun. He studies his dad’s recliner and the end table sitting next to it, the heart. He looks back at the TV. He takes a deep breath. He drops the gun. He grabs the end table with one hand. Then he sets it down, sniffs his clothes, and takes them all off before picking the table back up again.

Naked, Robert runs to the basement.

Robert runs to the sub-basement.

Robert runs to the sub-sub-basement.

Robert finds his way to the bomb shelter. The heavy concrete and steel combo clangs shut behind him, shaking free specks of dust from the high corners above it. A generator hums somewhere nearby. He covers himself in a heavy blanket near the door. It smells like flowers.

The ham radio his brother-in-law installed down here is on. It’s playing, “Nearer My God to Thee.” Robert doesn’t think he should be able to hear it without clicking a button or using headphones or something. But he’s no ham radio expert, so he sits down and changes the frequency.

“Nearer My God to Thee.”
Robert changes it again.

“Nearer My God to Thee.”
Robert changes it again.

“It’ll only play until all communication is destroyed,” comes Ted’s voice giddily crackling through the speakers over the music. “It won’t be long now. Then things will get interesting.”

Robert changes the frequency again, wondering what that means.
“At least we’re alive,” he says as Lump climbs onto his lap.

She licks his face.

Robert smiles.

Credit: AE Stueve

Official site

Please wait...

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed under any circumstance.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top