the world ends

this story won the roswell award for science fiction short stories in 2019 and was read by ezra buzzington who made it sound far more exciting than it does on the page.

The World Ends

At 20:47 the world ends.

At 20:12 me and the few other people left watching news feeds see the
vice president reduced to mulch live on TV. I imagine the panicked off
camera yell of the news anchor – ‘it’s really fucking happening’ – captures
the mood of what’s left of the nation succinctly, the realisation that no one
is safe, and yes, this is really fucking happening.

At 19:36 I watch a plane fall from the sky. I had never considered the
absurdness of something so heavy swimming through the air until seeing
the rate at which it plummets towards the earth once bereft of propulsion.
Like an arrow limply missing its target, it droops and then hurries
downward, landing in a spectacular explosion somewhere across town.
The world barely notices. No concerned citizens staring out across their
yards, no Hollywood ending. Just another cloud of black smoke rising to
meet the others.

At 18:47 I sit in the yard burning my research on the barbeque, just in
case. Lights dart across the sky, the setting sun revealing a sea of blinking
space craft across the horizon. In the distance static sirens wail,
emergency vehicles held up by the flood of people on the highway. Closer
the thumping bass of a street party abruptly stops, replaced by screaming,
confusion, gun shots. I crack open another bottle of beer against the porch,
settle in to my deck chair, look back up at the sky.

At 16:14 the power comes back on.

At 16:12 the power goes off.

At 13:01 I decide I should probably ring my mom after all. She doesn’t pick

At 10:42 I try to order a third latte but am told the coffee shop is closing
early. ‘Haven’t you heard the news?’ says an exasperated teenager,
flinging her company apron across the coffee machines with an air of
finality. Briefly I consider asking to make my own drink but in seconds
there is no one left to ask, the teen out the door and on her phone, her
manager dashing to her car. I leave, flipping the sign to CLOSED on the
door, and head back home.

At 10:10 I consider ringing my mom but quickly settle on sending a text
instead. I deliberate over what to say, rolling the sentences around my
brain like the ice cubes at the bottom of my drink. Eventually I settle on,
“Have you heard the news?” She doesn’t text back.

At 09:38 I pull off the highway and park up at a coffee shop, bereft of
customers, staff staring at an old TV hastily set up on the counter top. My
phone is still ringing. I smile at the absurdity of it all, how one heated
argument and a firing ignored by all but the most obscure of science
journals could lead to all this.

At 09:23 Baxter calls me. I’d deleted him from my contacts in a fit of anger
when they forced me out all those years ago, but I still recognise the
number. I picture him in the lab, surrounded by his expensive, government funded toys, billions of dollars of apparatus rendered impotent in seconds. The phone vibrates across my dashboard. What would he have to say anyway? An apology? An admission he knew I was right all along? Briefly I consider picking up if just to say I told you so, but the moment passes. All those years I sat listening to him deliver the same speech justifying our research as the solution to the energy crisis, PowerPoint slides stuffed with the epochal changes this other place would bring, to save us from ourselves. And his refusal to acknowledge that all our best research, all the metrics and tests agreed that all that existed on the other side was a need to consume, a force either so primal or so advanced that we could only understand this singular intent. Had they ever accepted the truth? Did it matter in the end?

At 08:30 I drive to the edge of the woods and release my dog into the wild.
He was always happiest running down rabbits in the undergrowth, so it
seems only fair to let him enjoy what could be his final hours doing what he loves best. At first he is reluctant to go, sitting on his back legs panting at me to follow. The bark of another dog with a considerate owner echoes
through the trees and he cocks his head to say goodbye before he bounds
off to find a friend. I watch until he is out of sight, get back in my car, and
return to the city.

At 06:48 I sit in my office with as many news channels as I can find open in
browser tabs waiting for an announcement. When it comes it’s from a
Mexican station and I regret not paying more attention in Spanish 101. Still,
they have footage. An undefinable wrongness in the air above Monterrey, a
deafening cracking sound interrupting the broadcast with blasts of
distortion. The wolf is tapping at the window. And then sleek black shapes
creep from the void, like cigarette burns against the bright morning sky. My
heart skips a beat, my head swims and despite myself I find it hard to
believe this is real. A smile creeps slowly across my face.

At 05:55 There is a deep growl from below and then the power goes out in
my house, screens flicker and die, the room plunges into darkness. I pull
back the curtains for a little light, navigate the mess of circuit boards and
fast food boxes and walk to the basement stairs. I descend, flicking on my
phone’s light. The air is sweet, dense, charged with electricity and escaped
potential. A pathetic plume of smoke leaks from the side of the generator,
its mission complete and its battery backup dying, red LEDs blink and blink
until finally they stop. I allow myself a minute or two to enjoy the moment,
my life’s work now spent and dead in the basement. The smoke
dissipates, the room is silent. I head back upstairs and I wait.

At 05:31 I turn on the signal and I invite them in.

© 2020 Sam Draper All Rights Reserved