I am the watcher at the end of the world.
At least, that’s what I like to tell myself.
It would be boring otherwise. This whole situation would seem anticlimactic and agonizing without those little reassurances. I need little reassurances as the landscape around me plunges into its season of darkness. March brings with it blistery winds and never-ending midnight, as the wintery rolling hills shift from a blinding white to a crystalline blue. Peppered with glistening specks like the remnants of starlight tossed to the wayside by the hand of a deity who gave up on their creation.
A midnight that brings on shadows, shadows accompanied by the sharp gnashing of teeth in the form of bitter winds. The spirits of the planet seem to cry out in rebellion, in anger against the thunderous boot prints humanity stamped upon its once proud face. The night is long and cold.
Antarctica is cold. This outpost is cold and I am a fool for opting to stay one more season.
One more season turned into two. Then three.
The last I heard from the mainland, from my employers, was that something catastrophic happened. It started in North America and spread outward, bouncing across the landscapes like a doe over fresh fallen snow. I heard the sky tear. Something shifted the course of humanity, of Earth, and radio silence quickly followed. The receiver doesn’t buzz anymore.
So I sit here alone, gazing at the wide open expanse of tundras and tidal waves of snow with bleary eyes and a growl in my stomach. Waiting for a call, a plane, another human face in the blanket of endless white. A confirmation that the end has arrived so I can stop drowning in my anxieties and what-ifs. Pondering the fate of the planet out beyond the winter wastelands. Out beyond the technology-laden halls of this damned building I now call home.
It’s lonely at the end of the world.
I’m bored of soup, of puncturing the cans open with my knife and wishing it was warmer than it is. It can be scalding and still not be warm enough. I’m tired of listening to the walls of machinery scream at me that something is wrong. My heavy coat feels all the heavier over my shoulders as it becomes a necessity. Another layer of skin, toned army green.
My notebooks—meant for research—have filled themselves with mindless nonsense as I jot down my thoughts. The lines of binary have turned to swirling cursive. Zeroes and ones turn to poetry and prose as I try to process the eternal damnation that sits outside of my window. I wait in my tower, like a forlorn Rapunzel, praying for someone to breach my walls. Lost in the metal spire, in my outpost, with a sad beeping radar to keep me company with its uneven and rhythmless melody.
All I can do is wait and watch. Wait and watch. Wait and watch at the end of the world.
And so I watch. Watch the planet melt and the stars burn out in real-time, amplified by the isolation at the end of the world as the horizon line tears asunder. And I think to myself, “Was this worth it?”
I don’t know.
It’s hard to tell, hard to justify, hard to grasp.
Was the research worth it? Was the stint in this cold box worth it? Being away from my family? My friends? My lover? Was sitting in the silence, in the chill, worth all of this?
Wondering if I’m the last human alive, stuck in that split where the snow meets the stars. Where the glisten on the ground is indiscernible from the twinkle in the sky. Where the whole of the world becomes a snow globe of stars, shaken until they come loose and fall in spirals like a meteor shower, and I feel my body twist alongside their trails, tumbling without gravity. I am without gravity here.
Was it worth it?
A thousand times yes!
In this isolation, the quiet and loneliness and wondering and waiting and hoping and watching at the end of the world meant I could gaze upon the colors with my own eyes. The aurora wafts with twisted lines, blown in like a gale on the surface of the ocean, calling lost souls toward where I am stranded. Stranded in my lightless lighthouse that dreams to beckon to someone with no avail.
For a brief moment, it shifts the unnerving blue, the unyielding darkness, to something magical. Otherworldly, like a massive hand tearing through the fabric of reality to peer down at the chaos with wonder and a cocked eyebrow filled with question. I see the universe shatter. I see the eyes of something greater than myself peer down with question. The creators did not forsake us.
They still have judgement to pass.
I stand in the snow, starving and frozen, on what may be the last night of my life. I stand still, hood caked in crystals of ice and cheeks so painfully brushed by the wind, and I gaze at those glowing eyes, white-hot like a sun. I see its hand stretch out to crush the crust below me. I feel those damning winds rip the tears from my eyes, clog my pores with ice and freeze my blood as quick as a bolt of lightning.
Unable to do more than drop to my knees and watch the end of the world ripple. Watch this deity collapse the universe with quick and chaotic brushstrokes, lighting the darkness for the briefest of moments and I think to myself, yes, this was worth it.
Watching the world unravel like a worn-down cardigan was worth it.
Watching the universe explode in magnificent shades was worth it.
Watching the end of it all at the end of it all was, most assuredly, worth it.
A.L. Davidson (she/they) is a queer and disabled writer who specializes in massive space operas and tiny disturbances. She writes stories about ghosts, grief, isolation, space exploration, eco-horror, queerness, and the human condition. They live with their cat Jukebox in Kansas City. Their debut novella, When The Rain Begins To Burn, was funded via Kickstarter and they hope to have many more books follow suit in the near future. Her web novels, The Wayward Souls of Avalon and Lonely Planet Hotel are available on Patreon and Tapas.
Disturbances by Alycia
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The heart I cut from the tallest oak of the forest. It has lived and brought life for over a hundred years, and it will surely bring much more.
Without it, the forest withers and dies.
The lungs I steal from a Siren. Strong and healthy, able to breathe underwater and on land, never will they struggle to catch a breath or gasp for air.
The Siren tries to curse me, but without air she has no words.
The blood needs to be special, magical. I hunt and trap a Unicorn. I bleed it dry, collecting every drop, and ask for forgiveness.
The Unicorn's dead eyes blink, a guttural rasp escapes its throat. "What are you waiting for? Drink my blood, take my horn. Nothing else can save you now."
"It's not for me." My shoulders slump and I turn away from the once magnificent being. I leave the horn.
You told me I would need these three things and a wish to bind them.
We were both supposed to protect her, take care of her.
Now, we must pay the price to make it right again. You turn around so that I may pluck the wings from your back.
What better way to gain a wish than through fairy dust made from a fairy's wings.
My sins are taking their toll. I don’t have much time.
I crumble the wings upon the small body before me. Upon the oak heart, the Siren lungs, and the Unicorn blood.
I'm fading, but my daughter will live again. A long and healthy life.
You failed as her fairy godmother but that is behind us now.
Please, watch over her when I’m gone.
Kai Delmas loves creating worlds and magic systems and is a slush reader for Apex Magazine. He is a winner of the monthly Apex Microfiction Contest, his fiction is forthcoming in Zooscape, and can be found in Martian, Etherea, Tree And Stone, Wyldblood, and several Shacklebound anthologies. If you like his work you can support him at www.patreon.com/kaidelmas and find him on Twitter @KaiDelmas
This story was originally published by Black Hare Press via their Patreon.