Author : Rollin T. Gentry

At the end of the world, he reaches down a callused hand and grips the cold, steel leg of his cot, a small chill that takes him back to the days before the world was scorched and blistered. In the predawn, before the sun has mustered its strength, he likes to remember a single day from his childhood: in the shade of a magnolia tree, legs crossed, licking a red, white, and blue Popsicle, he was happy. He can almost taste the sweet on his salty lips. Then the horn sounds, shaking the barracks. His bare feet slap against the concrete floor. Reaching for his boots, he wonders what it is this time: another brush fire, maybe a flash flood, perhaps a tornado. He sighs and laughs softly, because it doesn’t really matter what it is, not anymore.

At the end of the world, she goes to the only church still open, a giant building of stone surrounded by even larger buildings of glass. Inside, it’s standing room only. She pulls her hood down tight and slides past a man who looks like he belongs in a motorcycle gang. He has tattoos on his neck and face, and letters inked on the backs of his fingers. Up front, the altar is ablaze with candles and littered with photos, presumably of family and friends killed in the initial panic. She can still hear the sound of gunfire, and broken bottles, and tanks rolling over debris. The memory causes her to cringe. No one believes the asteroid will be diverted in time, not the rioters, not the National Guard, not the faithful few assembled here. Yet she prays.

At the end of the world, they take turns watching the perimeter, a crude wall of wrecked cars, garbage, and razor wire. They were all so very different before. In another life they would have never even crossed paths, but now they share everything: food, water, medicine, even a bed when it’s time to sleep. They huddle together in the dark when they hear the footsteps and moaning outside. They reassure each other that the creatures lurking outside their makeshift fortress are not zombies, but rather loved-ones: brothers and sisters of the plague, victims of the war, maybe even a lost parent. That is what they tell themselves when they are together, but when they are alone, they never fail to pull the trigger.

At the end of the world, it awakens every ten thousand years to collect data and report. The Earth below is still a lifeless husk, a tapestry of browns and blacks. A dead planet. No signs of life. The sun is measurably brighter than last time, but not much bigger, and definitely not turning red yet. It charges up its communications array and fires a laser burst toward the last known location of the human race. “Nothing new to report. Hope all is well,” it signs off, and against protocol, it doesn’t hibernate immediately. At the speed of its quantum processor, the whole of recorded history plays back in mere seconds. It wishes it had a face to smile or weep along with the story, but the best it can do is display a borrowed emotion from a series of photographs. When finished, it finds itself showing a picture of a little girl weeping. It has no idea why she was so sad, but it does as it has for nearly a million years. It rewinds to a smiling face, wishes humanity good fortune, and eventually falls asleep.

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