The Eighth of June

Last year, my first ever collection of short stories was published. The collection is titled DOOMSDAY FURNACE. It features cover art by the one and only Matt Wajek. One of the stories is called “The Eighth of June,” and since today is the 8th of June, I thought I’d share it. Enjoy! (“Enjoy” may not be the right word…)

Doomsday Furnace short story collection by Brent Michael Kelley - a collection of dark fantasy, sci-fi, new horror, dark humor, and whimsy. Brent Kelley is a horror author who lives in northern Wisconsin.

The Eighth of June

Do you remember where you were when you heard about the Doomsday Cloud? I remember where I was. I was sleeping in my bed, and Paula had stolen most of the blankets. At 3:20 am my cell rang. I am not a reasonable man when awoken from a deep sleep, and I think I woke up swearing.

Nobody calls to chit chat or deliver good news at 3:20 am. If the phone rings then, it’s probably an emergency. It was Izabel, and she was hysterical.

At 4:11 am on August 10th, I walked through the door at Sky Harbor Observatory. The entire place was alive. There was a fearless excitement in the air, and to be a part of that was like nothing I’ve ever known.

The Doomsday Cloud had formed in the path of Earth’s solar orbit. We didn’t know where the cloud came from or what it was made of. All our instruments showed was that the cloud was made up of some nasty shit. A cosmic enemy had arrived, and we were about to kick its ass.

That was then.


“Daddy? What happens when the cloud comes?” Lani says.

“Nothing is going to happen, sweetie,” I say. “How many times do I have to tell you that? The Earth has an atmosphere for a reason.”

“The boys on the playground said that the cloud is going to make all the good people go to Heaven and make all the bad people go to… Heck,” she says, hissing the last word like it offends her. Such a good little girl.

“I didn’t realize the little boys at your school are scientists! So what university did they attend? Stout? Harvard? Yale?” I ask. I’m poking her little belly each time I name off a school. “Cambridge? Oxford? MIT? CIT? Princeton?”

“Stop it, Daddy!” she says, laughing hard.

I send her trotting happily away. Alone in my home office, I key my computer to life. The scientific community is active on the D-Cloud Forums. Since I last logged off the DCFs two hours ago, there have been no world saving breakthroughs.

I can hear Lani in the living room, speaking nonsense, pretending to read her favorite book to her princess bear. I have a lump in my throat that’s all too familiar. Since the Doomsday Cloud formed, the slightest gesture on Lani’s part can have me in tears.

I check my watch.

With each tick, we are nineteen miles closer to the cloud. One second closer to…

June 8th. That’s the day Earth will enter the cloud. Of course, that assumes three things:

1) The cloud stays where it is.

2) The cloud doesn’t grow or shrink.

3) Earth continues to orbit the sun as it has for billions of years.

I scroll through the feed on my monitor, check my watch, and rub my forehead. I always feel so helpless here. My home computer is generations behind the machine in my office. I don’t have access to the ocean of data generated every second by the steady stream of res-drones analyzing the cloud.

I gather piles of readouts and put them into my briefcase. Tomorrow morning I’ll go back to Sky Harbor, but I’m ready to go now.

“Hey,” Paula says from the doorway. “You should spend some time with us, huh? We aren’t going to see you for a week and a half when you go back to the lab.”

“Nine days,” I say.

“Well, you better not spend the whole night in here. You still have a family, and we have needs.” She lifts the bottom of her shirt, runs a finger across her stomach, and smiles at me.

Like always, Paula is right. I stop putting papers in the briefcase and sit back down in my office chair. She sits on my lap and looks at the printouts that haven’t been crammed into the briefcase yet.

“Hmm, interesting…” she says. I know she has no idea what she’s looking at. “Just real quick, what’s TRA?”

I tip the page so I can read it. “It’s some kind of radiation. It was first observed by Dr. Jermihl Teourg, and it became known as Teourg’s Radioactivity, or TRA. We don’t know much about it, and that’s exactly the problem.”

“I see,” she says, wiggling her butt on my lap. She reaches in and pulls out another page. “Security and safety memo? What is this?”

I take it from her and put it aside, but she’s looking at me now. She’ll worry if I don’t explain, so I tell her. “There are a small number of ‘cloud cults’ who have attacked some other research facilities. Sky Harbor is in a very defensible location, and nobody can really sneak up on us. They just want us to be aware that other places have been hit. Honestly, babe, we’re safer there than here. That’s why I wish you and Lani would come with me.”

“I know,” Paula says, wiggling her butt again. “But Mom needs me. She hates it at the home, so if I don’t visit her, she gets depressed. Plus, we’d just be in your way when you’re trying to save the world.”

She lifts another page, and I can tell by the letterhead that it’s a res-drone spreadsheet.

“This talks about what research drones have been deployed in the last twenty-four hours. These columns show what type of res-drone it is, who manufactured it, launch site, instrumentation.”

“All these drones launched in one day?”

“More,” I say. “That’s one of six pages. Those are just the ones that launched from Britain, France, and Germany.”

She drops the page and goes to the doorway. In the living room, she sees that Lani has fallen asleep on the couch. She closes the door most of the way and comes back to me. Paula swivels me around in my big office chair so if Lani wakes up and peeks in, she won’t see anything. What happens next is beautiful and private.

It’s September 23rd.


In my room at Sky Harbor, I listen to the news feed while sitting in the massage chair. We take turns with it, and tomorrow it will be gone. My back aches constantly from hunching over keyboards and monitors, but the chair offers some relief.

The news feed tells of a prison that’s been discovered. The warden and the guards have abandoned the prisoners in their cells. After the power failed, many died of dehydration. Most starved. Three or four are alive, but they won’t live long.

The news goes on to talk about a church where so many people showed up for Sunday Mass that only a fraction of them could get in. A riot broke out, and thirty-some people were trampled to death. Another six were shot to death by church guards. I’m amazed that people could be so desperate for salvation they’d trample their neighbor to get it.

It’s so goddamn overwhelming, I can’t help but light a cigarette off the one I’ve just finished. I’ve only recently started smoking, but I don’t see the harm anymore. I’d kill to live long enough to die of cancer. I gulp a horrible swig of vodka straight from the bottle. Genocide, church riots, food riots, rape, cannibalism, torture. I think, if this is how we behave when the storms come, maybe it’s all for the best.

Christ, it would be so easy to start one of these cloud cults. As a researcher, I could probably be more convincing than most of the other charlatans. All I’d really need would be some technical jargon, some mysticism, and cosmic permission for everyone to take drugs. These cult leaders all have scores of followers they lead into the hills. Presumably to drink, party, and screw right up until the end. I think about that, and I think, Why not? Why go on?

It’s because of Lani and Paula. That’s why I’m doing this. That fucking cloud. It has a chink in its armor, I know it, and I want to help find it. I have to. I have to save the world for my girls. I’ll fight for them to the bitter end.

“Henry, you look like a fucking ghoul.” I didn’t hear Izabel come in. She could have knocked, the jerk.

“Thanks, Iz. And, please, come right in. No reason why I’d want any kind of privacy in my room.”

“Have you been sleeping?” she says.

“Has anyone?” I say. “We learned how to function on next-to-no sleep in grad school, didn’t we?”

“That was a long time ago. You should sleep when Paula gets here, at least. Otherwise they’ll think you’re turning into a mole-person or something.” She’s trying to joke with me, but neither of us has had a real laugh in weeks.

“Did you hear they attacked Goldboro?” I ask her, but I know she’s heard. “The whole place is just… gone.”

“I saw that on the feed. It’s a goddamn shame. We needed them most.” Izabel looks blankly at a spot on the floor.

“That’s why they got hit. Fucking cloud cults. They ought to kill their own damn selves and let the rest of us take our chances.” I light another cigarette.

“I wonder when they’ll come here,” Izabel says, only half speaking to me.

“Sooner or later. That’s why I wasn’t sure about bringing Paula and Lani here. I’ve gone back and forth on it so many times, but we should be together, you know? If the end is coming, I want them beside me when it gets here.”

I don’t tell Iz that Paula’s drinking heavily these days, but I think she knows. Everyone’s getting heavy into something. For some it’s booze, for some it’s religion. Some folks want to have sex right up until the end, others want to murder everything in sight. Humanity’s true faces.

“Stay positive, Henry. Sky Harbor has much better security than Goldboro.”

I don’t know if that’s true, but I nod. We had colleagues that worked at Goldboro. Hell, Frank Zumski was there. He was one of our crew back in grad school. We called him Frankie Nutso—partly because he ate pistachios nonstop, but mostly because he was an absolute wild man when there was a party happening. Neither of us says anything about him, but we both know the other is thinking about Frankie Nutso.

A group called the Heralds of Blessed Redemption were responsible. In a surprise rocket attack, they killed Goldboro’s power and opened gaping holes in the perimeter. Then truckloads of gunmen stormed the complex, slaughtering security and research personnel alike. Finally, they planted heavy explosives. No doubt, the Heralds thought they’d be gone before the military response arrived. They weren’t, and there was a standoff. I can only imagine what went through their minds: do we sit and get blown up by our own explosives, or do we get blown to pieces trying to break through the army’s blockade? It all went up in flames.

It’s October 18th.


I’m playing a board game with my wife, happily not discussing the recent death of her mother. Lani is nearby, sleeping in front of the TV with her princess bear. She has some heartwarming cartoon movie playing, but I don’t bother to see which. I damn near cry every time I pass her because she’s so innocent and beautiful. Because I want her to have a future. Also because Paula has given up, and now she drinks all the time. She says horrible, hopeless things to me. She has booze hidden everywhere. Nobody ever sees her drinking, but, trust me, she’s drunk.

We both jump out of our skin when a voice booms over the P.A. and says, “Alert. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Dr. Rivers. All research personnel, please report to Demonstration Room 1. All security personnel, your status has been changed to Code: Florida. All will be briefed shortly. Thank you.”

I look at Paula, and she looks at me.

“Whoa,” I say. “I almost wet myself there!”

Almost?!” Paula’s voice is shaky. “I just had a fucking heart attack! What the hell does that mean? Security Code: Florida?”

“It just means that securety personnel have to report to their default stations. It doesn’t mean anything, okay? I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.”

I give her the best smile I can, but she only ever says the F-word when she’s good and sauced. More and more lately. It’s another stab in my heart, but life is far too short to pick a fight with your wife about swearing.

The P.A. has awoken Lani, and she’s crying out for her momma. I get choked up quick. I can’t think of anything to say.

I manage not to bawl and tell Paula: “I’ll tell you what this is about as soon as I get back, okay? Don’t you fret.”

She nods, and I step out into the hallway. Izabel is walking by, so I walk with her.

“News says there’s another prison this week,” she says with no emotion.

“Another one?”

“Yeah, in Wyoming. Same thing as the supermaxes in Minnesota and Colorado and Texas and the others. Guards left the prisoners to starve in their cells. Not like they’ll end up on trial for negligence, or anything. One survivor.”

“Really?” I’m barely listening to her. I don’t actually think the facility is under attack, but I wish I had a gun.

“Yeah,” Izzy says, “but it sounds like the guy was batshit from eating his cellmate. I think they just blasted him.”

She keeps describing the horrors of the prison, and I do my best to tune her out. I can see that under her sleeve her arm is wrapped in gauze, and I know she’s been cutting herself. She stops talking when we get to the big demonstration room.

“Please take your seats,” says Dr. Rivers from the podium. “We’ll begin right away. Some time ago, the Pentagon and NASA—with the help of the Russians and the Chinese—launched a volley of over five hundred nuclear warheads into the Doomsday Cloud. To avoid interference, the launches were conducted in secret. Enough drones are launched daily that it isn’t hard for them to disguise the warheads. It is hoped that the explosion will work to disperse the cloud, even though we’ve warned against such an action from the beginning. Detonations will commence in twenty-three minutes. Please observe the detonations from your stations and take copious notes. Thank you, everyone. We will meet for further discussion later.”

We all hustle to our stations to access the data feed and pray for a nuclear miracle. Some of us smoke, some of us drink, some of us cut ourselves. I hold a photo of Paula and Lani to my chest.

It is November 10th.


The nukes have failed. The cloud waits for us at the 8th of June.

They call it the Finger of Death. It’s the tendril of the Doomsday Cloud that formed after the nuclear barrage. A wisp of the cloud snakes out and curves back around into Earth’s orbital path. It will touch the Earth briefly in mid to late April. No one knows what will happen then, but we all assume it won’t be good.

Somebody, for purposes of morale, has circulated the rumor that Earth’s atmosphere will deflect the Finger of Death. I hope it will, but I have deep doubts. Nobody else really believes it, either. It’s the Tooth Fairy. It’s Saint Fucking Nicholas. Our atmosphere saving us is a fairy tale.

It’s December 2nd, and there’s real work to do.


It’s March 15th.

We have made several breakthroughs. We’re getting very close. Some of us are bursting with hope. Izabel has stopped cutting herself, that’s how good things are going. The only problem is that the word of hope isn’t getting out.

As the touch of the Finger of Death approaches, some nations have decided to settle old scores. North and South Korea are at each other like hungry wolves. First it was rocket attacks, then came all out ground war. China and Japan have entered naval combat. It’s hard to say who fired first in the Middle East, but the entire region became a radioactive wasteland overnight. The United States has more long-range bombers in the sky than all of history combined. Hands hover permanently over big red launch buttons.

The Finger is projected to claw through the atmosphere and rake a path of unknown desolation across South America. Anyone south of the Panama Canal flees like rats on a sinking ship. Central America is a seething ocean of desperate humanity. There aren’t enough resources there, and the millions of refugees have made a bad situation worse.

I am numb as I hear all this over the news feed. We’re about to defeat the Doomsday Cloud, but nuclear annihilation is beginning to seem more likely.

I go back to work, more determined than ever.


It’s April 22nd.

Most of the killing has stopped, for the time being.

Today, the world is holding its breath. Today, everyone waits to see what happens when the Finger of Death touches South America. People hold hands and pray.

Satellite imaging shows the Finger barely scraping the planet. Aerial drones take up close video, showing the glittery green vapor of the cloud. One by one, the cameras corrode and cut out.

Stationary ground cameras, before they go black, show empty streets and buildings. Everything turns black, smolders, wilts to nothing.

In the following days, we watch the Finger of Death dissipate over the southern hemisphere. Sea water is contaminated and shown to be warming. The oceans hasten their swallowing of Antarctica and low coastal regions.

Through it all, Paula seems very upbeat. Sober even. I find out why as I crawl into bed with her.

“We should do it, Henry,” she says.

This has my attention. “Okay… Is Lani asleep?” I start taking off my shirt.

“No, silly,” she giggles. “Not that. I mean we should…”

Her expression turns serious. “We should think about… suicide.”

Her words hit me like a hammer, they crush me like a ton of corpses.

My voice is a trembling croak when I answer her. “We can’t. I can’t. I won’t ever give up. Not ever.” I understand why she would suggest it, but I can’t stomach the notion of my wife and child ceasing to exist. “We’ll find a way.”

“I wish I could believe that, I do. But you spend most of your time conferencing with your colleagues and going through mountains of data. I spend my time here with Lani. She gets tired and takes a nap, so what do I have to do? All I can do is watch reruns and news feed. There’s never any good news. Time is running out. There’s war everywhere. Riots, lynchings, suicide attacks, atrocities. There isn’t an Ark anywhere that’ll be ready to launch before June. Research facilities just like this one, they get firebombed once a week.” She wipes away tears and clears her throat. “It’s just checkmate, Henry.”

“When my dad passed away, he fought until the end. What I learned from him was you never give up, not ever. You kick and bite and scratch, and you squeeze out every last drop. You and me, we’ve both seen miracles.” My voice is frantic, and my eyes dart about the room. “Our daughter is going to have a future if I have to sell my goddamn soul for it.”

“Forget I ever brought it up, okay? I love you, Henry.” We hold each other in silence the rest of the night. Eventually, she sleeps, but I don’t.


It’s May 12th, and we’re going to win!

My reflection in the computer screen is skeletal, but that’s not what interests me. The air, water, and soil samples from South America have revealed the weakness of the Doomsday Cloud.

The news feed reports bizarre sea creatures washing ashore. Some lay on the beach gasping for days, being eaten alive by now-featherless scavenger birds. Whales have beached themselves, turning to jelly on the sand a few hours later.

The new horrors motivate us all. The global research community is energized like never before. An energy wave is being created that will save us all. What’s left now is to mass produce wave transmitters and switch them on. You’re doomed, Doomsday Cloud!

This is the day we’ve been waiting for. The lab is bursting. I can’t wait to tell Paula. I grab a handful of printouts to show her.

“Henry!” Izabel is screaming, running into the room.

“Izzy! We have it!” I run to her, wrap my arms around her, and lift her up.

“Henry, put me down. You’ve got to come now!” she says. Her face is pale and tearful. She drags me by my arm down the hall. She’s leading me to the living quarters. I start to feel sick. We’re running now, and my heart is beating out of my chest.

A silent crowd has gathered outside the entrance to my room. They move aside for me without making a sound.

On rubbery legs, I go in. There, holding each other on the bed, are Paula and Lani. On the nightstand, beneath two empty syringes, is an envelope with “HENRY” written in Paula’s tall, curvy handwriting.

I pick up Lani’s princess bear and climb onto the bed with my family. I tuck the bear under Lani’s arm, and I hold my girls for the last time.

I’m the only one who doesn’t flinch when the rocket hits the building.

Alarms are blaring, and people are grabbing at me. I fight them enough that I’m able to grab Paula’s letter. Before I know it, I’ve been pulled down the hall and through the cafeteria. Guide lights flash on the floor as walls explode. Would-be escapees are showered in high-velocity debris. Concrete dust cakes my nostrils. We all cover our noses and mouths with our shirts.

A small group, including me and Izabel, make it to the escape tunnel. The dim, muddy walkway is around three miles long. I slosh at the back of the group, hoping this is just the worst dream of my life.

The end of the tunnel is near, but the group has stopped. A jeep can be seen just outside the opening. We all know whoever drove that jeep is part of the attack.

“Henry! Get down!” Izabel is hissing.

I shake off her grip and keep walking to the tunnel’s end. Seeing the sun, I realize that I haven’t been outside in weeks. I must look like a zombie. Turning my face up to the sun, I moan.

“H-halt!” someone shouts.

Turning slowly, I see the voice belongs to a terrified young man with a very large gun. I stare at him blankly.

“My orders are to shoot anyone who comes out that tunnel.” His gun is shaking. He hasn’t killed before.

“Why not?” I ask. “We’re already dead.” I take a step forward, daring him to pull the trigger. “All of us.”

But he doesn’t pull the trigger. He takes two steps backward and trips. He lands on his ass, but never takes his eyes off me. The other escapees dart past us.

I close my eyes and turn my face back to the sun.


It’s June 8th.

I’m lying on my back in a field. I open Paula’s letter and read it again. The message is just five words. Below the message, inside an elegantly drawn heart, Paula and Lani have signed their names. I stare at it until the words are burned into my retinas. I look up to the poison-green sky and see her message written on the clouds.

The air is getting thick, and every breath is agony. My skin burns, bubbles, and turns to foam. Muscles shrivel and fall off my bones. My vision fades as my eyes liquefy. They run down my cheeks, the last tears I will ever shed.

All I can think of now is Paula’s final message to me.

Five words etched into my mind. I can feel her presence, and Lani’s, too. As the Doomsday Cloud swallows the world, my last thought is Like always, Paula, you were right.


Thanks for reading!