Author: J.D. Rice

The end, it seems, is nigh.

I stare at the billboard strapped over the old man’s chest, telling me to repent of my sins before the apocalypse comes. Crudely written scripture verses surround big, bold letters saying “REPENT!”

I haven’t been to church since I was seven. I couldn’t tell you what any of the verses were in reference to, nor could I say with certainty that any of the books listed are even in the Bible. Mostly I’m just shocked that anyone actually has access to one of these signs in this day and age, and that anyone would take the time to patrol the streets the day before the asteroid hits.

“Repent!” he says. As if humanity has anything to repent for.

We’ve come so far in the last 100 years. Poverty is gone. Hunger, war, and disease have all been eradicated. People still die of chronic conditions, genetic defects, even some rare outbreaks of personal violence. But plague? Crime? These are things of the past.

Technology has progressed in leaps and bounds. Philosophy and experience has taught us how to use this technology for the good of all. The Earth is unified in a way that our ancestors never would have thought possible. Borders are a formality, and racism is confined to only the darkest corners of the world. After tens of thousands of years of struggle and hardship, mankind has finally come into its own. United and strong.

Now one rogue asteroid, set on its course for earth thousands of years ago, is going to end it all. And all this man can think to say is, “Repent!”

I glance down at the bag in my hand, filled with food my wife is going to use to prepare a last meal for our family. My son and daughter don’t fully understand what is happening. We haven’t had the heart to explain it to them. Better for them to die in a flash than sit quietly pondering their own mortality. We’re going to give them one last night of joy, tuck them in for the night, and then pray that death finds us before they wake up the next morning.

Now, instead of walking the rest of the way home, I stare at the man across the street, my blood boiling. How dare he stand in judgment? What moral superiority could he possibly have to justify his actions? What sins does he suppose we committed to deserve this?

He’s just a blind, stupid fool unable to cope with the inevitable.

I step up to him, wanting to tell him off, wanting to yell and scream and tell him that his God never did anything for the world but plunge it deeper into the darkness.

But then – quite of their own accord – my lips starts forming words that lack any of the venom and vitriol my id so desperately wants to unleash.

“I know you are scared,” I say, looking into the man’s eyes, which I see – now that I am up close – are on the brink of tears. “I don’t know why you are out here. Maybe your religion is all you had growing up. Maybe you’re clinging desperately to anything that might give you a glimmer of hope. Or maybe you’re just lonely.”

The man lets out a deep exhale, the tears welling up in his eyes.

“You aren’t alone,” I say. “You have me.”

My bag of groceries falls to the ground as the man unexpectedly hugs me, the flimsy billboard bending between our bodies. We hold the hug for some moments, unspoken emotions washing between us, before finally breaking.

In the end, he joins my family for dinner and sleeps peacefully on our couch as my wife and I wait for the end. We face the catastrophe in the same way mankind has learned to face all its challenges.