The world held its breath. For once, even the men on the television hadn’t anything to say, and they too waited in silence. Across the planet, men sat with their heads in their hands, in front of their television screens, too afraid to look. Wide-eyed women wept, clutching each other as though trying to hold onto life itself. Parents held their children tightly—children who had no true perception of what was going on, but from the atmosphere could tell they should be afraid. Some people wringed their hands, telling themselves everything would be alright—everything was always alright, in the end. Others grimly poured themselves another glass of scotch, having long ago resigned to the fact they were damned.
The streets were silent and still, and the air hung heavily over every structure.
At length, the televisions cut to footage of a panel of men in sharp suits in a room full of anxious reporters. Behind them, an emblem declared, in blocky letters, ’NASA’. The man in the middle of the group pushed up his glasses and, eyes darting around to all the faces in the room waiting in silence for him to speak—a rare thing, indeed for reporters—, he bent down to the microphone on the table and, sombrely began, “At 10:15 this morning, an asteroid passed the Earth, which will, as you know, return in another decade in a path that will destroy all life on the planet. In order to prevent this, we launched a rocket to divert its course…”
He paused. They were waiting—waiting to be told they would live.
“The mission,” said the scientist. “The mission was a failure.”
Around the world, sobs erupted from the chests of distressed men and women. Parents cried and pulled their children close to their chests.
“In ten years the asteroid will strike Earth,” he told the reporters with their cameras and their microphones and their stunned expressions. “All life as we know it will end.”
No one spoke. Those that wept wept in silent disbelief. The world was stunned.
“There is nothing else we can do.”
The scientist’s statement seemed distant to his audience. They were lost in their own thoughts. Some reflected on the meaninglessness of their lives, and some on their dread of death. No one spoke.
It took weeks for the shock of it to wear off. Days passed slowly and quietly as most people numbly went about their lives. Then, all at once, large chunks of the population realized how pointless most of the things they did were, and they stopped. Condemned to death, some stopped attending work, others didn’t bother to clean their homes, and, still more, many decided to tell the people around them what they really thought. Across the world, facades came crashing down, but—aside from that—the first year was close to normal.
In the second year, the rate of poverty and homelessness rose dramatically, and across many countries violent riots broke out. In the less developed nations, these were riots for food. However, in places like Germany and England, the populace rioted for luxury items, like high-tech televisions.
Government workings in democratic nations had ground to a near halt. Day in and day out, Congress sat in session, but no bills were proposed or voted on. Every now and then, a politician would stand up, clear his or her throat, and then make as though they were about to speak before abruptly deciding against it and sitting down again. Those that did speak could only talk about being brave in the face of this threat. The others listened solemnly, nodding their heads in agreement, though they knew it was no use.
Men and women left their spouses in droves, telling them life was too short for unhappy marriages. Children dropped out of school in no small numbers—after all, what was the point of an education when you wouldn’t be alive to use it? People began to tell their friends just how much they meant to them, and told the people they didn’t like just how annoying they found them. Some people shut down completely—committed suicide, or went insane—others withdrew from society completely, resigning instead to live in seclusion in the wilderness. The murder rate rose, and the birth rate dropped, and everywhere every human being was scared and uncertain, and very clearly aware of how scared and uncertain their families and friends and idols were. There were no heroes, no saints, no martyrs; only the regret of lives ill-used and potential never met.
The years passed in confusion. Governments collapsed—not in flames and new ideas, as had been history’s customary cycle, but instead collapsed in apathy. Politicians no longer deigned to show up for their hollow office. Lobbyists stopped caring about the causes and industries they lobbied for. Half-way through the decade—the ten-year green mile which the reporters called The Decade of the Damned—paper money and coins fell out of favour in all of the industrialized world. What was the point of scraps backed with gold? It was of no use to them. Gold could not save them; a shield made of gold could only shine and bend, shine and bend. Barter systems sprung up from Russia to France to Canada to Japan.
Eight years found a world with no governments. Famine and bandits roamed the dark world, as they had many years before. Some people formed communes, some grew their own food, and a few farmers remained committed to making more than they could consume and selling their surplus. Cults sprung up—some worshipped the meteor that would end the world as a god, come to save them from human corruption; others saw it was a devil that had come to test them but would ultimately be vanquished by the Divine. Some people prayed more than they ever had, and attended church every single day; others gave up religion completely, for what kind god should send them a death so certain, yet so stretched out?
A news reporter on the television tried to read the news. Half way through, he gave up and hung his head. “For thirty-two years,” he said at last. “I’ve sat here every night. I’ve sat here, and I’ve told you about the wars and the murders and the fires and all the things that bleed. I—I have never given you the news; I’ve given you the hatred of mankind. Blood for ratings. And I don’t want to be part of that. Today a woman saved a baby that wasn’t hers, and a man saved a stranger he has never seen before and will never see again from falling into a ravine. Today an old couple gave cookies to the neighbourhood children when they accidentally hit a ball through their window. Babies were born today and kittens were cuddled. Today two strangers smiled at each other in an elevator because they knew it might be the only joy that other person might have that day, however brief that moment was. Today a man hugged his wife and he whispered in her ear that he regretted nothing.” That was him. “Today a Muslim and a Hindu sat down with a Jew and a Christian and they resolved all their differences. Today a child sat indoors and read, because she wanted knowledge for its own sake.
“We may have lost our hope for a better tomorrow, but we have all the power for a better today.” Then, he laid down his cue cards, full of stories of the rising suicide rate, parents murdering their children, and thieves running rampant, and he stood and, without a fuss, the news man walked away.
The final year. The last turn around the sun for Earth. The last turn for mankind, for civilization, for life and love and hope. And when that turn was done, would any body know? Would any body care?
There was nothing to talk about; no plan to be made. In the run-down streets of Chicago and Denver, men and woman looked at the sky with heavy hearts. Every leaf was the last leaf they’d see while simultaneously being the first; every birdcall was unique, even when the origin was one bird. Parents played with their children, and held them tight against their breast, because they had never loved harder than this. And after every rain, every single face turned to find the rainbow. Lovers sat in over grown fields, hands locked. There was nothing to talk about. There were no regrets.
The last day. The last hour. People crowded into streets and meadows, shoulder to shoulder, all of them looking at the sky as the sun slid down, tainting the air an eerie red. They locked hands with people they did not know—there were no strangers anymore. Everyone was friend, brother, mother, grandpa. Everyone was human.
They could see the meteor. It started as a glowing dot in the sky. Someone remarked that it looked like a star; she was, before she was damned, a kindergarten teacher.
It was drawing close as they watched, together. But not huddled together; they stood upright, and easy.
Almost instantly, it was upon them—Death in a flaming chariot that came from far across the uncaring universe. There was scarcely time for tears. The final minute. The final seconds.
Then, someone made a joke and they were all laughing.
- Title: A Terminal World
- Artist: The Real Batman Stands Up
- Description: A short story about the end of the world, inspired by--if I remember correctly--'The Universe' on the history channel. The asteroid is a real, predicted event. It will, if I remember correctly, pass by earth in a few years, and then pass by it again in an orbit which will hit Earth and make it uninhabitable.
- Date: 03/15/2009
- Tags: terminal world