It was the day the world was supposed to end. But it wasn't ending. Now it was almost midnight and nothing was happening. And it was almost the end of the day the world was supposed to end.
It was almost the end of October 22, 1844.
"The Lord will not fail us," said Nathaniel Bennett confidently, dismissing his daughter's unspoken skepticism.
"It is not the Lord who would be failing you," Sarah pointed out. "It's William Miller."
"William Miller didn't conceive this date out of thin air!" Nathaniel said. "It says in Daniel 8:14 that in two thousand and three hundred days, the sanctuary shall be cleansed. The day-year principle makes that this year. Christ will return today!"
"And yet he's not returning," said Sarah.
"There's still about three minutes left!" declared Nathaniel. "Our Lord will return to cleanse the world and we will ascend into heaven. Or at least I will. I pray you will be taken too, but..." His voice trailed off.
"Remind me again," said Sarah, "is this the first time William Miller predicted the end of the world? Or was there another time when he was already wrong?"
"The first time he overlooked the fact that there wasn't a year zero," Nathaniel replied. "This time it'll work. Everyone knows it's coming. That Prussian fellow even wrote a play about it."
Sarah didn't think that writing a play about a suspected apocalypse was the act of a true believer, but decided it wasn't a point worth raising. It was no use trying to argue her father away from his unshakable belief in William Miller. The only reason he wasn't in the Millerite encampment outside the city was because she had refused to go with him.
"How do you think the world will be cleansed?" she asked after awhile.
"I don't know for sure, of course," he said, "but I believe a planet will strike the Earth and create a polar shift."
"Which planet?" she asked.
"One that hasn't been discovered yet," Nathaniel said. "It will come out from behind the Sun and fly into the Earth."
"I'm pretty sure there are eleven planets in the solar system," said Sarah. "Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Vesta, Juno, Ceres, Pallas, Jupiter, Saturn, and Herschel. If there were a different number of planets, I think we'd know about it."
"Or maybe it will be a comet," Nathaniel suggested. "Its tail will pass over the Earth and snuff out all life with its poisonous gas."
"And why hasn't this happened every other time there was a comet in the sky?" asked Sarah.
"What does it matter how it will happen?" insisted Nathaniel. "Look at the world around us. It's obvious we're living in the end times. There used to be a time when people admired the President, but not anymore. First Martin Van Ruin took away our jobs and now we're living under the reign of His Accidency. This wasn't what the Founders intended! Then the Missouri River had its biggest flood in history and the Catholics tried to take the Bibles out of schools in Philadelphia. We're reaching a confluence of tipping points."
"Bad things happen all the time," said Sarah. "That doesn't mean it's the end of the world."
"But things are getting worse all the time!" said Nathaniel. "You can't tell me things aren't worse than they were ten years ago. President Jackson once fought the monster bank for us, but everything's gone to pot since he left. Now we have presidents who only care about themselves."
Deciding that there was no use arguing politics, Sarah kept quiet. And the clock ticked down the last seconds of the day. Despite herself, Sarah couldn't help tensing up a bit. When the clock struck midnight and began chiming, she resisted breathing a sigh of relief. To look relieved would be to admit she'd been scared and she really hadn't been. She'd known nothing would happen, even if that hadn't stopped her heart from speeding up. Sarah let the chimes carry on for a few more moments.
"I think Jesus is late," she said eventually.
"Jesus is not late!" yelled Nathaniel. "The clock's just wrong!"
But the clock's chiming continued for a few more moments before finally dying out. They had unmistakably crossed the event horizon into October 23, 1844.
"Well, I imagine this will be a great disappointment to the Millerites," said Sarah. "I suppose we won't really know when the end of the world will be until it happens." Nathaniel thought about that for a moment.
"Maybe," he said resignedly, "but the world will end if Governor Polk is elected in November."
Matthew McAyeal is a writer from Portland, Oregon. His short stories have been published in the literary magazines Bards and Sages Quarterly, cc&d, The Fear of Monkeys, The Metaworker, Danse Macabre, and Scarlet Leaf Magazine. In 2008, two screenplays he wrote were semi-finalists in the Screenplay Festival.