For nineteen years, every week, every Wednesday in fact, Jose had been receiving a puzzle piece in the mail. The stamp markings were from all over the world and none of the pieces, except for the first one, have had a note with them. Well, that’s not entirely true. The first piece he’d received has an etched note on the back of it that only read "save me." Then there was a piece about six years ago that came with a Christmas postcard, but no other words have been sent along with the envelopes.
To date, he had collected 1007 pieces of the metallic puzzle marking today as the 19 years and 19 days of the weekly gift. Tomorrow, if all goes as it has, Jose will receive the last piece, the bottom right corner. When he’d collected about 200 pieces, he began putting them together. By his early calculations, it was going be a 1008 piece puzzle; that was now verified. What made this puzzle unique was that it hadn’t been making a picture on its surface. Instead, every other piece was mirrored with the opposites being a scuffed metal surface, and all were an even 1/8 of an inch thick.
"I don’t mean to sound cheesy, but I’m puzzled on why I’ve been getting these," said Jose speaking aloud to his friend Jackie on the phone across the room. "But if you’d like to come over tomorrow afternoon to see it, feel free."
The rest of the evening was uneventful for him. He made himself dinner, cleaned up, watched some television (Quantum Leap reruns rock!), and early into Wednesday morning he made his way to bed. The night went fast and, so far as Jose remembered, lacked any dreams.
After rolling out of bed around ten o’clock on a rainy Wednesday morning- his regular day off for the last ten years- he made himself some coffee and breakfast and lounged around. The mail would arrive around noon that day, so he had a little time to watch some morning late morning cable news.
"…If you’re just joining us here’s what we know; the President of the United States, alongside dozens of leaders from around the world, gave a prepared statement from Geneva this morning. The same statement was also being transmitted across the world at the same time. President Trump stated that, in ‘an act national security and safety for the world, an agglomerate of world governments had hidden the fact that a mentor is expected to hit the Atlantic Ocean this evening creating and will be an extinction level event will… The sun had been blocking the trajectory from visible…’"
Jose tuned out and didn’t even hear the last of the broadcast. A thousand things raced through his head at one, for some reason he thought he should call his boss and tell him he won’t be there on Thursday. The thought was gone as fast as it had happened at the sound of the mailbox slot on his door squeaking open and shut. A single envelope lay on the floor propped up against the brown door. Picking up the letter sized envelope he realized his hands were shaking as he turned the white rectangle over not seeing anything out of the norm from the previous weeks.
Taking his letter opener out of the drawer he slid it slowly under the crease to open the envelope to find a single metallic puzzle piece, nothing more. His breathing was picking up, and the sweat on his palms was visible. A crashing sound from outside his apartment brought him back to the resonances of chaos outside. Looking out the window was as if looking upon a different country, perhaps a third world country town torn apart by civil war. He didn’t want to recognize his quite New York City street; cars were on fire, a man was being beaten by a baseball bat from two others, gunfire from the other direction rang across the sky. He stepped back from his window clutching the puzzle piece.
Unclutching his hand, the rounded pewter colored puzzle piece with beads of sweat lay there. The corner piece he needed to finish it. Jose knew what he had to do. It was going to be the last joy he’d have in this world; at least he would be able to finish this single journey of completing this puzzle. Standing over the dedicated puzzle table, he extended his hand to insert the final- bang, BaNg, BANG!
Swinging his head around to his door he could visibly see the next three knocks- BaNg, BANG, BANG!
"Jose, open up, is me, Jackie! Jose, are you in there?"
Jose stood frozen for a moment before more banging on the door moved him to the peephole. On the other side in a fish-eyed lens was a distorted was Jackie with a mess of black hair and blood running down her right cheek from a gash on her temple. He unlocked the door and no sooner did he turn the handle that the door was thrust open pushing him backward. Jackie quickly slammed the door closed locking both the deadlock on the door handle look. Turning to her friend she embraced him in a hug as if they’d been lovers for years. They were in fact only best friends with no more than a light hug or a peck on the cheek ever exchanged.
"Are you still in your pajamas?" asked Jackie with a furrowed brow. "Don’t you know what’s happening out there?"
"I wasn’t aware there was a dress code for the end of the world," he replied in a much more sarcastic tone than he intended.
"I mean, you’re staying here? People are trying to make it to the west; they say it’ll be safer out there."
"Nobody is making it west Jackie unless they’re already there. But no. I was planning on finishing that," looking longingly towards the puzzle. "And just hanging out till, well, you know, that end."
Jackie looked hard into Jose’s eyes, deciding he was serious she merely said "Ok. Mind if I stay here?"
"Not at all," he replied shaking his head.
Jose motioned his head for her to follow him to the puzzle and showed her the final piece in his hand. She took it and rubbed it for a moment before he placed it into its deserved spot.
It was anticlimactic.
For a few moments, the two just stood staring at the mirror-and-silver-one-thousand-and-eight-piece-puzzle before it began to melt together to a black color.
Silver specks began to form over the blackened puzzle, giving the space a 3D effect. Jose and Jackie both moved forward to get a closer look. Bending over the table, they were able to look into the puzzle.
"Are those-" said Jose, pausing while trying to register what he was seeing. "That’s, those are stairs."
Jackie did a double take too. "Um-" she said pointing to the puzzle. "There’s someone coming up the stairs."
Sure enough, there was a woman, with short white hair walking up the stairs that connected to the underside of the puzzle. As the woman got closer, the two of them instinctively backed up, unsure what they should do. The woman in the puzzle slowly stuck her head out of the puzzle, breaking the plan as if she was coming out of a calm lake without causing any ripples.
"Ah, I see you’ve brought a friend Jose. Good, it’s always best to do this with someone you know. So, I’d love to stay and chit-chat and answer all of your questions," the woman paused looking at a non-existent watch for effect. "But we have about two minutes to get you two outta here and into the Elzzup. So, if you don’t mind-" she stopped holding her hand out to Jackie.
"Yes, of course, Jackie. Be a dear and take my hand. I’ll help you down."
Looking at Jose who only had a shrug of his shoulders to offer she stepped up on the chair and onto the table before stepping down onto the first stair. She stepped down disappearing.
"Aaand now you Jose. Up you go."
"I ah-" started Jose.
"As I said, we don’t have time for this. Let’s go." the woman demanded.
Jose followed Jackie’s footsteps and stepped into the puzzle. Just before he was all the way, he was stopped by the woman’s voice.
"Yes, ah, Jose, could you be a dear and grab that corner puzzle piece there. We don’t want any rocks and the likes to bump you on the head."
Jose reached up and grabbed the metallic corner puzzle piece and pulled it down. As the rectangular shaped began to close, the last thing he saw was a flash of light and then nothingness.