Who knew that ash could feel so heavy in your hands? Pouring from the clouds like the globular rains of an early spring. Ash cascaded down smothering all that it touched. The earth had come too far to fall so fast. Surviving the interstellar cataclysm had not prepared the soil beneath our feet for the treacherous betrayal of the solstice sun. From view on high we watched as the burning stone breached our sight finding its mark without thought nor care. Forests, mountains, rivers, cities, hamlets or villages they came. Each arrived, not without warning, but in an unpredictable spray.
For me, I had read the stories and watched the reports of the outer solar arrival of our doomsayers. Strangely, I still went to work. I still occupied the gray, five by five cubicle that was more home than I had ever known. Deadlines were met, projects were delayed and checks were cashed all the while knowing that the end of ends could be just around the corner.
I availed myself from the tragic prognosticating from scientists and politicians about our impending doom by listening and absorbing to the anecdotal evidence presented by my peers, my family and neighbors that left each believing that nothing more to come was expected from the sudden and alarming arrival of a series of asteroids the size of a thousand Jupiters. All and each viewed the celestial objects in a bizarre demure state all the while praying and pinning their hopes on the understanding that our world, Earth, was nothing more than a silent blip on the radar of an ever-expanding universe. Hedging their bets on the odds that Earth would somehow avoid catastrophe.
The day of was perhaps the most enlightening about the state of the world for a man like me. A sip of coffee, a slice of lemon frosted pound cake and the companionship of a good book ironically called The End of the World. It was a collection of short stories whose prose surrounded the aforementioned title. None of course depicted my personal hell as I watched the images of the asteroids as they approached. The idea of burning alive, each particle of my being festering with the searing heat ironically sourced from the icy chasm of ten mile wide rock born from parts entirely unknown to me, was how I pictured Dante’s decent into Hell. Anyone who had read Alighieri’s famous poem knew that the horrifying nature of Hell would be enough to unsettle the most ardent atheist.
I had no family, I had no friends and I have only the sensibility to remain clam despite the situation. I wagered that I could stop going to the office and still receive my pay, but I dutifully returned on the off chance that the Earth did survive and the world do go on. Lord knows a corporate entity would not stop short of relieving me of my position because of the preconceived notion that I would perish in a rain of hellfire.
That final night, before the events I humbly referred to as the Reckoning of the Red, I slept remarkably well. I postured with myself the idea of hiring an escort for the evening. A terrible effort to stave off the sense of plaguing loneliness on what could amount to my final night on Earth. Sympathy for the poor wretch that should spend even a moment with me was more than enough convincing I needed to put away my wallet and toss my phone in the nightstand. Instead, I chose the same book, The End of the World, and read until I feel asleep.
Since it was a Saturday, I refrained from removing myself from bed until mid-morning. I chose to leave my phone and my fears behind as I ventured into the city streets. People raced by belongings in hand, children in tow and pets leased. With a sigh I made my way to my normal coffee shop. I had slept poorly and needed a perk or two to carry one with this day. Should it be my last, I did not want to be asleep for it.
Much to my surprise and sleep deprived delight, the coffee shop remained open. A skittish yet eye fetching barista poured me a tasteful blend of Colombia and Arabica dark roast and offered a vanilla soy creamer. I declined the creamer and took a seat at the window to watch the world go by at a pace it had never gone before. I overheard the barista arguing with her boss about being at work during such a desperate time before an abrupt completion to their conversation. The barista looked at me and with a silent agreement they brought me the remaining pot and stormed out of the café. Leaving me to my own devices and to my thoughts which by now were an eclectic mixture of what lied ahead of the living world and what Heaven could be like. I found myself asking whether the Bible or the countless priests that spoke sermon after sermon afforded the believers, the faithful, the most accurate and hopeful depiction of it. Maybe they had sold us short? What if Heaven was even better than the human mind could imagine? In a strange twist it would only logically make sense that a place that no one alive had seen could be more fanatical than previously advertised.
Or I suppose it could be more mundane.
At that moment, the precise moment I was lost in a conundrum of rationality, I heard the wailing moans of sirens beckoning me to the streets. It was then I realized that it had subsequently signaled to everyone else to take cover. To take flight into the nearest underground structure leaving me completely, utterly alone standing in what would on any given day be the busiest thoroughfare in the metropolitan area. I resisted the urge to call out to determine that I was, in fact, alone.
The time between my exiting of the café and my walk to the nearby park were peaceful. Not once, in the history of this city, had it ever been this empty. Not even during the dead of night were the streets this outright empty. I pictured myself as an actor in a post-apocalyptic movie or the story surrounds that of a lone wanderer in a long gone world before coming to the stark realization that in probably amount to mere hours, minutes or seconds would be more reality than not.
I walked to the center of the park and stood at the keystone of a bridge whose expanse stretched across an eerily still pond. The fish swam, the turtles sunbathed and the birds fished as I watched the stillness awaiting any sudden movements. I felt pity for the creatures of Earth that knew little of the approaching fiery quagmire in the space above. I gathered that I actually felt jealous of their ignorance as they went about their business right up until the moment, the world would end boiled alive in the water that for so long sustained their ecosystems.
Shaking my head I remembered my therapists long drawn out diatribes about negative perspectives, the power of organically fatalism and the importance of shuttling in positive perspectives to maintain personal equilibrium. I determined it was best to move on from the park and head skywards.
The lobby of the tallest building in the city was again abandoned, but the elevators were in working order and took the first bank on my left to the roof. Part of me anticipated a line of hopeless individuals seeking to make the jump into oblivion before the clouds vaporized and the grounds scorched. There was a certain appeal to preemptively escaping the morbidity of inevitability by going out on one’s own terms, but I had never been proactive. Thankfully, I found the rooftop devoid of jumpers and in their stead a loosely formed group of gazers that had taken positions at each corner observing intently the sky above.
I took a seat near the middle and stared at the blue sky. I could hear the gazers around me triumphantly announce that the asteroids were approaching the outskirts of Mars and by their non-scientifically based calculations, would arrive within an hour. After a cautiously optimistic cheer, a woman on the far left of the building stood up and gestured to the rest of their crew to join her at her telescope. Intrigued I casually approached and without uttering a word was offered a chance to gaze into the scope and get a firsthand look at the objects that would dispel the notion of life on earth. There must have been a hundred thousand rocks and chunks of ice in all shapes and sizes speeding in my direction. I pulled away from the telescope and pulled out my phone checking the news one last time before the apocalypse as if there would be anything else to discuss.
Suddenly, a brilliant flash sent me reeling to ground. I blanketed my eyes in an instinctive yet vain attempt to shield away the blinding light. In an instant the world around me had darkened. I knew for certain I had perished, but like a cathode ray tube, my vision returned from dark to light. Slowly, but surely, colors filled my point of view. My rational faculties returned and I awaited my first glimpse into Heaven.
There were no angels, no fields of golden grain and no welcoming party from my long deceased relatives as I had expected. As I had hoped. Was I a bad person? Did I go to hell? I asked myself near panic. As I bemoaned my predicament, my sight finally returned completely and I soon realized that I lay atop the skyscraper I pushed myself to my feet and looked down to the ground far below. No fires, no husks and no lifeless bodies were found. People returned to the streets confused and rejoicing.
The interstellar bodies had missed. Missed by a country mile, but in space I suppose that was considered to be narrow. The harbingers of death, the rocks destined to destroy life as I knew it had glanced off our atmosphere and were turned away by the Earth itself. Instead burning off on the fringes of Earth. We the people, had underestimated nature’s ability to fend for itself. Where humanity had come to expect, the Earth was not ready to die.
Turning to ash and nothing more. This is how the world was to end. We had all prepared for it.
Turning to ash and nothing more. People changed their existence because of it. This was how the world was to end. Turning to ash and nothing more.
When the world was at the brink, when faced with my own demise and a chance to do whatever I wanted. I did what I always did. I greeted fate with slavish mixture of risk aversion and casual cynicism.
A boring, pointless shell.
This was how my world was to end. Turning to ash and nothing more.