The Road to Salvation by Eva Schultz

Jasper walked down the road under a dark red sky. In the distance, he could see the cold curves of the final transport saucers preparing for departure. He could have had a seat on one of them, could have been departing this doomed planet for the black unknowns of space.

Instead, here he was, walking down a makeshift street in the desert to his father and his fate.

Ahead, he could see the pavers, faithfully extending their road even as the world’s final moments were upon it. Jasper wasn’t yet close enough to pick out his father from among the small group.

When the global science community had pronounced the planet’s fate a year ago—a massive meteor on an inevitable path to destroy all life—reactions had ranged from fear to denial to feverish efforts to escape. Only one group had remained serene through it all. As governments built massive transport ships to send their citizens to space, as survivalists dug into the ground to build their tunneling caverns, those who followed the old ways built the roads that the ancient manuscripts called for. These mystical roads, they preached, would turn into dimensional portals when the world ended.

Jasper’s father had raised him on the ancient teaching, but as he grew up, he had recognized it for the superstition that it was. For years, it was just one of his father’s eccentricities, a subject Jasper tried never to raise. He was tired of the sermons.

When the world learned that the meteor was coming, Jasper had pleaded with his father to take a seat on one of the escape ships. There was no guarantee that they would find another habitable planet, but it was their best chance of survival. These portal roads were nothing but a fantasy written centuries ago by madmen.

But his father argued that the meteor had been predicted in the scrolls. The ancients had written about a great cataclysm and revealed that the only way out was to build the roads—blend the elements that they called for, stand on the gold-flecked surface, and wait for the light and the heat of the cataclysm to activate the portal to the next dimension.

Jasper had left his father here in the desert when the road work was just beginning and gone to register for his seat on a transport ship.

He had followed the efforts of the faithful on the news reports as the months slid by. He watched every clip of the pavers, singing their hymns as they worked. Around the world, pockets of believers started roads from wherever they happened to be, twining outward across the land.

Why didn’t they just build a central lot, they were asked, and invite everyone to come to them? Why the painstaking work of extending these roads across the continents? Jasper knew the answer by heart and pictured his father in place of the foreman interviewed on the news, shining with sweat and hope as he spoke: “The portal isn’t just for us. It’s for the whole world. So we extend it as far as we can, to reach as many as possible. We’ll keep working until the final hour to provide escape to anyone who will join us.”

Jasper had laughed and shaken his head along with everyone else each time the road was mentioned, ignoring the catch in his heart.

Never in their decades of research had scientists found any sign of another habitable world. As the departure date grew closer, Jasper envisioned himself among strangers on the transport ship, trying to convince himself they were going somewhere and not just waiting to die in space.

On the morning when he was scheduled to board the transport, he left his ticket on the bed beside his empty suitcase and headed out for the golden road.

The desert air seemed to grow hotter around him as he drew closer to the pavers. Jasper looked up at the sky and saw it brightening. His heart began to pound; the end really was here.

The foreman looked up as he approached, and Jasper recognized his father’s face. He hesitated, wondering what he would say, but his father dropped his spade and ran to him.

As they reached one another, the transport saucers’ engines fired in the distance. Jasper stumbled into his father’s arms. Through a haze of tears, he watched the ships lift into the dying red sky. He heard his father murmur his name.

The air all around them was like an oven. The remaining pavers had finally stopped their work and were standing on the road, hands lifted, singing a song Jasper didn’t know but could feel in his bones.

He held his father by the shoulders and stared into his rheumy eyes for the final time. The singers’ voices disappeared into the air as the elements screamed and the sky tore all around them.

And then he felt the world ripple away. He looked out at the lushness of cool grass and a placid blue sky that felt both familiar and brand new.

Jasper looked into his father’s shining eyes again, and his breath caught as his father said, “We’re home, son. We’re home.”

Eva Schultz lives in Aurora, Illinois, where she is a business writer by day and a fiction writer by night. Her work has appeared most recently in Shady Grove Literary, Havok, Flash Fiction Podcast, and Writer’s Digest. She lives with a big orange cat named Gus and enjoys drawing, painting, and collecting typewriters.