lights and sounds

The stars are falling again but only three tonight. From this grassy hill in the middle of nowhere, you have a perfect view of these balls of fire that crash through the night. Without fail, you wish on every single one that you see because it makes everything seem like it will get better.

The reason only three stars are falling tonight is because there are hardly any left. This has been going on for the past decade, since you were seven years old.

Last night you counted five. Five wishes. You have been counting these falling stars for the past year. Every night is spent on this hell. You don't have school to worry about because the schools are all shut. You should be spending your remaining time with your parents but they left to join some research team. At home, it's just you and your older brother and you don't know where he is most of the time.

'Hey.'

You turn around and there is someone there. No one is ever there. But this is a boy your age. He has brown hair and brown eyes and he is wearing impossibly tight jeans and a plaid shirt.

'Who are you?' you ask.

He does not answer you.

You try again. 'What are you doing here?'

'What are you doing here?' he returns.

You just shrug. 'Waiting for this to be all over,' you answer and you don't look back at him.

'Everything?' he asks.

'Yes.'

You look at him in time to see him smile. It's not a proper smile. It's a sad smile, the one people smile after they've told you bad news and said everything will be okay. 'Me too,' he says.

'Waiting by yourself?' you say.

A frown falls over his face. 'You appear to be as well,' he says defensively.

You raise your eyebrows. 'That's not what I meant.'

'What did you mean?'

'I meant...' You hesitate. 'Do you want to wait with me?'

He seems to consider this and then the first real smile you have seen from him lights up his face and he says to you, 'Sure.'

You return his smile and you think that maybe this whole apocalypse thing won't be so bad after all.

The next night, you wait for him. You wait until two o'clock and the fourth star has just fallen when he appears. He gives you a small smile and offers you a fleeting glimpse into his mind before he shuts himself off again.

'Didn't think you'd make it,' you say.

He doesn't answer that. Instead, he says, 'How long do you think we have left?'

You think about this and answer, 'Maybe a month. If we're lucky.'

He nods.

'Are you afraid?' you ask.

He looks at you. 'Of what?'

'Dying. Like this.'

'No,' he says certainly. 'We're all going to die one day anyway, our time is just being cut a little short, that's all.' Years older than you, he continues, 'We're dying with the rest of the world. We won't be alone. We won't be the only ones suffering.'

'We will all die alone in the end, though,' you say quietly. 'No matter how many people suffer along with us.'

He just shrugs and turns away.

Two days later, there's an earthquake. It's not the first and it is certainly not the last. The whole city shakes violently. After several lifetimes, or seconds, you can't tell, the first building falls and it creates a domino effect.

As the ground cracks beneath your feet, you think that maybe you shouldn't have gone to get the groceries today.

As all the screams and sirens blur into one big, never-ending cry for help, all you can do is just get the hell out of there. So you run. And you see others running too, and you hope they will be lucky in their attempts to get away. You just get the hell out of anywhere. You don't know how you manage it without getting crushed. All you know is you did.

By nightfall, you are back on the hell, looking at the scattered city lights. From here, they look like they are on fire, burning, ablaze. Or maybe some of those lights really are fires, you can't tell. So far, over three thousand dead and nine thousand injured. It wasn't as bad as the last time.

And that night, he does not turn up at all.

For seven days you wait for him. Every night, you sit on that hill and wish on every falling star that he is okay. You hope that maybe he has just forgotten about you. But even you are not hopeful enough for that.

On the eighth night, you have given up all hope. You continue to count stars. By now, you feel like wishing on the ones still in the sky because they seem luckier.

'Six,' remarks a voice from beside you.

You do not turn, only ask where he has been. You can almost see him hesitate.

'There were... complications,' he says slowly. 'I'm sorry.'

'You're sorry,' you repeat. 'I have been here every night for seven days and I was sure you were dead and all you can say is sorry?' You do not know why you feel so strongly for this stranger, after all, you know little to nothing about him. The look in his eyes tells you he also does not know why you seem to care so much. You just do.

He flinches beside you. 'It wasn't my fault,' he says and you just say, 'Spare it,' and get up and walk away. Now you do not feel anger. All you feel is regret.

Exactly twenty-four hours later, you go back. And you are glad to see he is there. You apologise and he just smiles at you and says, 'Five.' Five wishes.

'Why are you here?' you ask.

'I was waiting for you,' he answers, 'so we could wait for the world to end.'

Containing your smile, you say, 'How do you think it will happen?'

'I think a star will land here and blow us up or the Earth will just tear itself apart.'

'We're the closet planet to the sun now Mercury and Venus are out,' you say. 'We could get roasted.'

'Or the rest of the world could flood,' he says. Half of the total landmass is already submerged. The polar icecaps melted a century before you were born and you have only ever seen pictures of a classic earth.

'An earthquake could tear us apart,' you say.

'Or a meteor could collide with us.' And you go on like this for the rest of the night.

Another time, he says, 'What is one thing you wished you did before you died?'

'I always wanted to write a book,' you say. 'What about you?'

He ignores that and says, 'So write a book.'

'Now?'

'Yes,' he says. 'Tell me a story. I don't care what.'

So you tell him of a time when everything was perfect. There were icy cold winters and roasting hot summers and there were bright stars in the sky and it was all very beautiful and perfect and you can almost believe it was real.

Then another star falls, burning through the sky.

'That's the seventh one tonight,' he says and you say, 'The end must be near.'

With the two of you on this hill, just sitting like this, you think it wouldn't be a bad way to go, watching the stars.

'Before I was born,' you say, 'my grandfather could pick out Orion's belt.' You say, 'Now there is no Orion's belt.'

You do not have long left.

-

'This is it,' you say, and two stars fall simultaneously. The ninth and tenth ones tonight.

'Are you afraid?' he asks.

'I don't know,' you say.

'Hey,' he says. 'I'm right here. You and me, we're going out together, right?'

You smile at him because you cannot find the right words. Maybe there are no right words for this.

'I'm so glad I met you,' he says and a star falls miles behind you. The forest is on fire.

'Me too,' you tell him and because it seems important that he knows, you say, 'I'm glad I'm not dying alone.'

He lies down and you follow suit. He pulls you into him so you are both facing each other. An asteroid shoots across the sky above you. The sky is on fire with lights and sounds. Everyone on earth is looking at the same thing you are. It's mindblowing and phenomenal and just plain terrifying at the same time.

With the sky falling around you and him next to you, you think this is the perfect epilogue to your life. The final chapter.

You turn the last page and you whisper, 'Welcome to the end of the world.'