Author: Steven Watson
“It’s not the end of the world.”
This was how Clara consoled herself: by affirming the exact opposite. For it was the end of the world. The earth was dying, and only a small mountainous corner remained habitable. A band of several hundred humans made it their home, but the altitude was such that no life could be born, and after fifty years only Clara was left.
Her pets would likely survive her. They were six-legged, with bulging eyes, and humans called them ‘zergs’. They had long dark-yellow bodies, not unlike slugs, and when they stood upright (which they could do only for several seconds at a time) they towered above any human.
Zergs did not generally consider humans prey, not because humans weren’t edible — which they were, despite their ill-health — but because they were a more powerful and, moreover, a more mobile species. Humans, therefore, kept the zergs as idle pets, much like pigs or sheep, and would sometimes farm them for food.
Several zergs encircled Clara. They were perfectly still — patient, even — though small hissing and whining sounds escaped their terrible mouths. Clara was dying and with her the human race.
The zergs’ preference for not eating humans only lasted up until the human’s death. They ate like snakes: slowly digesting the body whole. Occasionally a zerg attempted to eat someone nearing death, but another human would always stop them. For Clara, however, there was no one left to stop them. As she drifted in and out of consciousness she felt the greedy lips of a zerg attach to her forehead.
Inside the zerg, near what one might consider its belly, were hundreds of sharp teeth that ground the body it was digesting. It could have taken several minutes before Clara reached that stage, and in all likelihood, she would have suffocated by then.
But the zerg’s lips kept re-attaching, and never seemed to make it past her eyes. She was not aware of it, but the zergs were competing over her. One zerg would grip its lips onto Clara’s head, and another would stand up momentarily, then slam its body onto the feeder. It would then take its place and another would slam him. There were six zergs in total, and after one had scuttled away defeated, the remaining five seemed to find a compromise: two got the legs, another two got the arms, and one (the most dominant) got the head.
“Still,” Clara told herself, “it’s not the end of the world.”
Clara was nothing if not a fervent optimist. She thought a miracle to be more likely than a tragedy. She had still believed that she might birth a child, even after she had entered her dotage, and even after the last man had died. She did not identify the extinction of humans with the extinction of humanity. Some might call her a fool, but she remained happy; a more rational person would have been driven mad.
The most remarkable thing then happened — one might even confuse it for a miracle. The zerg sucking and drooling on her forehead had not yet reached her eyes, and so she could still see the sky. At first, the sky turned a crimson hue, then fiery pulses clouded it in kaleidoscopic colour. The pulses became regular and the sky quivered as if about to collapse. The heat became intolerable, and the zergs detached themselves from Clara and lay on their backs writhing in agony.
“Oh, dear me,” thought Clara, not altogether unhappily, “perhaps it is the end of the world.”