The end of the world, it seemed to Peter, when he was able to collect enough of his terrified wits to think about it. But at first there was no thinking; there was only sensation—a terrific roar, as if the whole universe had suddenly turned to sound; a blinding white glare, as of all the lightnings of the heavens; a blow that picked him up as if he had been a piece of thistledown, and flung him across the street and against the side of a building. Peter fell upon the sidewalk in a heap, deafened, blinded, stunned; and there he lay—he had no idea how long-until gradually his senses began to return to him, and from the confusion certain factors began to stand out: a faint gray smoke that seemed to lie upon the ground, a bitter odor that stung the nostrils and tongue, and screams of people, moaning and sobbing and general uproar. Something lay across Peter’s chest, and he felt that he was suffocating, and struggled convulsively to push it away; the hands with which he pushed felt something hot and wet and slimy. and the horrified Peter realized that it was half the body of a mangled human being.
Yes, it was the end of the world. Only a couple of days previously Peter Gudge had been a devout member of the First Apostolic Church, otherwise known as the Holy Rollers, and had listened at prayer-meetings to soul-shaking imaginings out of the Book of Revelations. So Peter knew that this was it; and having many sins upon his conscience, and being in no way eager to confront his God, he looked out over the bodies of the dead and the writhing wounded, and saw a row of boxes standing against the building, having been placed there by people who wished to see over the heads of the crowd. Peter started to crawl, and found that he was able to do so, and wormed his way behind one of these packing-boxes, and got inside and lay hidden from his God.
There was blood on him, and he did not know whether it was his own or other peoples’. He was trembling with fright, his crooked teeth were hammering together like those of an angry woodchuck. But the effects of the shock continued to pass away, and his wits to come back to him, and at last Peter realized that he never had taken seriously the ideas of the First Apostolic Church of American City. He listened to the moans of the wounded, and to the shouts and uproar of the crowd, and began seriously figuring out what could have happened. There had once been an earthquake in American City; could this be another one? Or had a volcano opened up in the midst of Main Street? Or could it have been a gas-main? And was this the end, or would it explode some more? Would the volcano go on erupting, and blow Peter and his frail packing-box thru the walls of Guggenheim’s Department-store?