(A Flash Fiction piece by Bruce Baker)
The man perched on the sheer cliff overlooking a steel blue sea and stared into a reddening sky. He seemed to be lost in his thoughts, although why one so young should have such deep thoughts was a mystery. He was barely twenty-one, yet his eyes gazed outward with a much older, much wiser sight. A barely discernable sound on the hill behind him roused him from his reverie. Oh no, he thought, I had hoped to escape the madness here.
From around the bend in the path, a young woman cautiously approached him, nervous of the height of the cliff and the pounding of the surf below. The man recognized her as a first-year student in his theology class. Puzzled as to why she was here, he murmured, “Why didn’t you go join the others? I’m certain they’d be better company than I will.”
She stood behind him quietly, pondering her response. “I didn’t feel like doing anything they were doing. I saw you go this way, and thought I’d see where you went.”
He laughed, “As you can plainly see, I’m just sitting here, lost in my own mind. Pretty boring stuff. What were the others going to do?”
She sat beside him on the cold stone. “Some went to the church. Others decided to have an orgy in the common room. Of course, there were more than a few that jumped from rooftops. The rest started burning everything in sight. The campus was quite pretty when I left.”
“Everyone has to deal with their own mortality in their own way, I guess,” he quipped.
She added, “Before the television went off the air, they reported chaos all over.”
“Except here,” he added.
“Except here,” she agreed.
“So, you’re telling me that the ideas of wanton destruction or group sex didn’t interest you at all?”
She giggled. The sound seemed so out of place. “I guess, I figured there must be something more than that, you know?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Do you mind if I stay? Sit with you a while?”
“Be my guest. I’m afraid that I will not be nearly as interesting as your other options, but you are welcome to stay.”
She focused back on the growing redness in the sky. “How soon will it happen?”
“Well, technically it happened about two weeks ago. The explosion destroyed our orbiting solar observatory in the first minute. That was our tip-off. Of course, no one told us until it became obvious that something was wrong. I guess they wanted to minimize the nonsense people do.”
“The sun has been looking ‘funny’ more and more every day. I just accepted the scientists word that it was a normal solar function. Even now, it’s hard to believe the sun isn’t there anymore.”
He shuddered, “We can see the result of the nova. The speed of light means that what we visualize only happened a minute ago, but the blast wave is moving much slower, about eight miles per second. That would take more like two weeks to get here. Should be any time now.”
“The news said that the rich and famous were moving into underground bunkers to escape – the ones that they built for the war that never happened.”
That made him laugh. “There isn’t a way to escape this. Even if they managed to beat the shock wave, the expanding plasma would incinerate them.”
“So why sit here? Why stare it in the face?”
“Is that what you think I am doing? No, I’m not bravely looking into oblivion. I’m staring at the demons within me – coming to some sort of peace with them.”
“Will it hurt – at the end?”
“No. It’ll just be too quick, like a train, only this train will be moving at 28,000 miles per hour. Your nervous system won’t even have time to record that it happened before it’s over.”
She gazed upward into the stars just popping into existence. “I wonder. Do you think there are others out there – people like us?”
“Probability says there are, but the odds are they would be nothing like us.”
“I wonder what they call their world?”
“I would imagine that they called it Earth – I believe that all intelligent creatures would refer to their world as Earth, in their language of course.”
“Will they notice what happened to us?”
“If their instruments are pointed the right way, they should though it might take hundreds of years. If not, then we die alone.”
She huddled closer to him. “I’m cold,” she whispered.
He held her close, welcoming the intimacy of the moment. Their tentacles intertwined until the two of them resembled more of a fuzzy ball than living beings. No more words. They huddled together on the cliff as the night crept in until…