The End of the World
A/N: A short story I wrote for my creative writing class last semester. Thought I’d post it.
This is the end of the world. The morning mist rolls over the forests, stretching towards the horizon. I stand at the edge of the cliff, staring out at the landscape; it’s like a pastel painting carefully traced out in front of me, not quite real, but just well done enough to appreciate.
Enough time has that most of the last traces of civilisation have been grown over, swallowed by nature. The will of God, as the voices say. Soon, the earth will forget entirely of the human race. Weeds and vines have curled over the cracked concrete and twisted metal, and serene animals step over the hidden roads beneath layers of soil and roots, grazing quietly and happily.
I sit cross legged at the edge, a ball of clay in my hands. It’s what I’ve been doing since the very start, sculpting statues out of clay. I have long since lost track of time as everything melted into continuous eternity, but still, I try to preserve the human race in the careful features of each sculpture, each curl of a finger and sweep of a brow. Each new day I would create a new one, and the next morning I would let it crumble, and simply start again on another.
I carve the finishing touches on my latest one, a tall, smiling woman who gazes solemnly over the rolling valley stretching out before the cliff. I pick my way back to my bed in the grass at the top of the hill, and walk past it down another curved path that leads into the valley. The trees tower beautifully above, their arms criss-crossing the light blue sky. The sunlight filters tentatively through the cracks and pours over the forest floor, warming my back as I continue deeper, picking a quiet spot in a clearing, surrounded by small, lightly coloured flowers.
I cross my legs and wait. Soon enough, the animals begin to appear.
In the beginning, they were tentative, scared, uncertain. They can sense everything that is within me – thousands of years of human history in one body. But eventually, when I made no sign of hurting them, they came, one by one. And now, wherever I go, I can always simply sit down and let them come to me.
I place a gentle hand on the fawn who makes its way over to me and nudges me on the nose. A bird flies and flutters and lands on my shoulders. A squirrel scampers down from one of the trees and rests next to my knee. There is a compassionate beauty to everything, something I wished I could have someone to share with. I know that I hold an infinite amount of lives within me, that I am countless and boundless, composed of the start and end of humanity and everything in between – but still. There is something simple about having a ear to listen, a body to embrace. The animals come and go and I watch the sun rise and begin to fall. I stand up and feel them return back to their homes. A few of them follow me, matching my step, until I reach the edge of the forest again and begin to climb my path back up the hill.
In my time here, I have walked miles and miles towards the horizon. It never ends, and I can only imagine how much more I will see in the future. It doesn’t matter, because I have forever. For now, I return every night to my bed in the grass on the hill, the highest hill in the valley area. There, the grass is soft and the flowers wave gently in the breeze every night. Behind me, the sun sets, casting the sky into milky shades of yellow and orange. I lay down in the cool grass and close my eyes; a light wind flutters through my hair, and I let myself slowly fall asleep to the sounds of birds singing gracefully in the distance.
I see the very end again, how extinction came not in fiery explosions and catastrophes, but in a quiet and serene night. I remember the voices who told me, in my sleep, that it was time. By the next morning, every human had vanished. Every life gone. The plants and flowers and vines grew faster and faster that day. I watched how they overtook gas stations and shopping malls and apartment suites, bringing them back to the earth. I was just a young woman before, but the next day I awoke with the memories of every human life in me. I was the last and only relic, a living memorial of humanity. And I was left here to guard the planet forever.
Every night I sleep I dream. I don’t dream of new stories or imaginary worlds, I dream of memories. In my dreams I relive every part of the human race, the experiences of every one who has walked this planet before. In that, they are all still alive within me. I feel a mother’s fiery protective love for a child in danger, I feel the grief of a son who suffered the loss of his best friend, I see the fall of the Berlin Wall and the horrors of all the wars from the very beginning to the end. Every night I sleep I remember.
I jolt awake in the darkness. Strange. I normally sleep peacefully for hours on end, with nothing to disturb me and no chaos or anomaly to worry about. But now I sense something off. I get up and walk down to the edge of the cliff, looking around. Darkness falls over the valley, and the sky is awash with stars blinking down at me. Then I see the scuff marks at the edge, where my clay sculpture stood just few hours ago. My heart thuds within my chest. It’s gone. I look back up the hill and my breath catches when I see a flicker of a shadow move and vanish.
I scramble up the hill, pulse quickening, and I see it again. A humanoid shadow that wavers, then moves almost too quickly for my eyes to catch. It goes down the path and I run after it until I reach the edge of the forest. It’s tall and unsteady, hiding a little bit into the forest, peering through the cracks between the trees. A pair of glowing eyes stares back at me, then blinks.
“Hello?” I call out, voice wavering. A voice I haven’t used in so long already. I take a tentative step forward. The shadow shivers and begins to turn. “No, wait! Don’t go.” It falters and stills between the trees. I walk forward, dodging between the trunks and branches and fallen logs on the leaf strewn ground. As I near, I see a tall, graceful woman staring down at me. She seems almost translucent, and shivers again when I approach.
“You’re the woman I sculpted yesterday.” I whisper in awe.
She blinks and suddenly a small smile appears on her dark skinned face, making her eyes twinkle. “You have poured so much love and attention into us for so many years already. So much that you put some of your lives into us. Did you think you’d be alone forever?”
I hesitate, at a loss of words. “Is it just you?”
“I’m the only one who has found life through your hands, but if you wish, there might be many more of us.”
I take her hand. It’s soft and warm, and I’m surprised by how human it feels.
“They won’t let it happen.” I say softly.
“They?” She asks curiously.
“The voices. The universe. The human race was meant to end on that day. I was meant to be the only one left to preserve it. Just me, nobody else. It was their will. Now that you exist…” I trail off and stare into her eyes. They’re uncertain, wavering with emotion. Once again, so human, too human. “They won’t let you exist, either. Your very existence interrupts the natural order of the universe.”
Just as I finish the sentence I sense a commotion behind me. My heart stops as I see several pairs of blinking eyes in the trees. There are low growls and out of the trees come five wolves, hackles raised and black fur bristling. I recognize these wolves. Just a few days ago I was playing with them in the fields nearby.
The wolves move ever closer, and I can almost taste the scent of fury and wrath rolling off of them in waves. It says, you have sinned, you have turned your back on us.
I cast one more glance back at her. Her eyes are frightened and concerned, brimming with confusion. Suddenly impulse takes over me. I grab her hand again and turn, pulling her with me.
We sprint through the forest, my feet finding the way by intuition and muscle memory alone. The wolves bound after us but I don’t look back. I know the forest and the valley as well as I know my own palm. And I know that we all have a place here.
We make our way through the trees and I can still taste the tang of the wolves following us, the distant pounding of paws and sharp growls echoing through the air. I imagine their claws and fangs sinking bloody into my skin, into hers, I see her crumbling into clay dust before me, and suddenly it is my only desire for that to never, ever happen.
I make a sharp turn and we dive into a cave at the edge of waterfall, a cave I usually go to myself to rest and think during the day. In the damp, barely illuminated shadows, I take a moment to catch my breath. She sprawls next to me, a hand still on mine. I’m trembling, my mind racing through the motions. Just a few hours ago I had been the only human left in the world, and had believed I would be for the rest of eternity. And now, here is another one, another human. A simple reflection of all the humanity I hold inside of me. She smiles, then speaks.
“You aren’t alone anymore.”
“I never really was,” I say softly. “I have the world inside of me and outside.”
“But now you have me as well. I am new life. And with your hands, there can be more of us. We can find a way to live in harmony with the universe again.” She reassures. “You say that we are interrupting the universe, but the universe ebbs and flows like river water, it is change and growth and new beginnings. This is who I am, and this is a beginning.”
There’s a sharp growl at the cave entrance and we both turn, startled. A wolf, the leader of the pack, enters, fangs bared. I feel the temperature drop in the cave, and inside my mind, flickers of past violence, destruction, horrors, of all the people who have lived before me.
She suddenly shuffles forward, bowing her head calmly, then extends her arm. My breath catches as she speaks, placing one palm on the forehead of the wolf.
I watch as more and more wolves begin to crowd at the entrance, blocking the light and casting us in shadow.
Her hand does not move from the wolf as she begins to speak. “We’re here in peace. We were created out of love and that is how we will live. Look inside of me, see my heart in candor.”
The low rumbling and growling shake to my core, and I do not dare to move for several moments.
She closes her eyes and smiles, her palm brushing the wolf’s muzzle.
Gradually, the wolf’s hackles fall, eyes soften.
The wolves at the entrance hesitate, then retreat from the entrance, letting the sunlight back into the cave, bathing our figures resting there.
Slowly, the wolf lies down and curls around her, breath deepening.
My fingers trail to the clay at the back of the cave and I smile. I look at them, and I see the beginning of the world.