The world is supposed to end this Friday.
That’s what the government, or whatever is remaining, has been telling us. Friday is the day we all get turned to worm food. Friday is when the galactic storm hits. The scientists say the black hole will be close enough to pull us off orbit and eject us from our solar system into another. Some of the religious folks have declared that the growing twilight whorl in the sky is God come to pass judgment. Still others insist this is a government experiment gone wrong. There’s speculation that our end will be a violent one. I’m just hoping for something quick.
There are so many ashes from the thousands of buildings that never seem to stop burning. The sky is a floating grey sheet. Embers rise and fall like drunken fireflies. The air chokes, and we can’t keep on breathing like this.
It’s strange to see people burning down the things they once needed, like their favorite rec center, or general store. I’d better understand maybe a bank or a government office, but this isn’t a protest or a political burn or even a controlled one. We burn things down when we’re scared. Inside of us is an urge to destroy when we’re hurting.
Me and the other two boys like to sit on Beacon Hill. We have to throw on our respirators before we leave our homes, because of the smoke. We sit in silence and watch the burn. This is the only type of entertainment we’ve had since the news broke. Some of us bring books. Some sit and cry. Some of us just watch. One of the boys’ distorted voice cuts through the smoke and ash, the usual quiet.
“My mom couldn’t deal anymore so she jumped off the roof. She’s mostly ok though. She didn’t die, just broke some bones. It doesn’t matter.”
We were used to hearing bad news like this, from covered voices, always muffled by our masks.
“At the end of the world she couldn’t even kill herself.”
We used to call this hump day, but getting through the middle of the week is the least of our worries today. Shots fire off randomly from beyond the hill. Dad said people are putting down their pets. I’m not sure if he’s right, but like most of us he’s giving up on saying the nice things. We’ve been in a bare minimum state for a while. The boards on our windows are still holding, but barely. All the precautions we’ve taken were to protect ourselves from each other. But in this final week, we’ve just lost hope.
My dad was good at hope. He’d tell everyone that he trafficked in it; at his Lottery and Gaming job. A few months before the announcement, he pulled me from school to join him at a work event. Ms. Ludlow and her three daughters had won five hundred thousand dollars and he wanted me to see the looks on their faces as they proudly held up their giant check. The smallest girl couldn’t even reach the corner.
We scrounged together the last bits of food we had left. There was a calm air of acceptance in all of us. We had been fighting the same thing for so long and it felt that today, as family, we agreed that we lost. Together. The fight was over. It’s not a fight we could’ve won, but there was something honorable or maybe even beautiful in trying.
When the sun set we wanted to be near each other again, close to each other again. We ate slowly and spoke to our neighbors about nothing. The small talk we used to hate was now all we could manage and sometimes even craved. Tonight, every word, every moment mattered. It was as if someone might harbor the words of our salvation. Off one of our lips, out of one of our mouths, the answers to a future might be there.
I thought we would be more afraid. I thought we’d hear a collective wailing throughout the night. But I heard nothing. Maybe most of us submitted a long time ago.
They were wrong.
I guess in all our fear and confusion we forgot that even simple weather predictions were never an exact science. Over the radio, the reporter listed one-by-one the cities that were ok. One-by-one it felt like I wrestled a bit more air into my lungs. The black hole wasn’t close enough to suck us in, or to even throw us off course. It barely missed our solar system, and then collapsed into itself. The sky is clear and blue again. It was a close call, in their world.
I fell off the chair I was sitting on, and started rolling around laughing and howling. All the fear just escaped through my open jaw. It was an exorcism. It hurt. I looked to my mother and then to my father. They were still here. They were skinnier, weaker, but still here and smiling. I got up to hug them, but my legs were weak. I fell to my knees, sobbing and cackling wildly.
Will the Global Science Committee pay for this? People will want justice, revenge, they’ll want to see them burn for this inaccuracy. What will it say about us when we jail our greatest minds, or worse, call for their heads? Where do we go from here? So much was said and done. Last night we were ready for anything. Today, we are afraid again.
The boys and I went back to Beacon Hill. We took off our masks. I inhaled long and deep from the cool burnt breezes. We knew it was too soon but the air felt lighter, the ash and smoke seemed to have cleared. I thought of Ms. Ludlow’s smallest daughter, her little hand reaching up high, as far as it could go.