Eight

It takes eight minutes to answer an open-ended question on a standardized exam. It takes eight minutes to share a box of cookies with a friend. It takes eight minutes to live out a day dream. It takes eight minutes for the world to end. We stand, always, just eight minutes from disaster; eight minutes from the end.

It takes eight minutes for the light to travel from the sun to Earth. Eight minutes can be a long time, when the sun is just struggling over the windowsill horizon, peering through the haze of dreams into our lives. It takes eight minutes for the light to reach us. Eight minutes to feel the warmth. The darkness has eight minutes before the sun hits it, and it vanishes under beds and behind closed doors.

It takes eight minutes.

When the sun goes out, we have eight minutes. Eight minutes before the light is gone, and the darkness rushes in. Eight minutes before the warmth dissipates, and we are instead left with an eternity of cold. Eight minutes to live. Eight minutes to die.

It takes eight minutes.

Seven minutes, fifty-seven seconds

The first thing I do, when the clock starts ticking, is take his face in my hands and kiss him. Not long and slow, because there is no time for that. Quick and passionate, spontaneously pressing my lips against his, because there is no longer any time for hesitation.

I feel his lips tense in surprise against mine, and I have the briefest taste of his breath against my tongue before I run. I'm not running away from him, I tell myself. I'm running from the end, and he just happens to be standing in it. It sloshes around his Converse sneakers and laps at his heels. The end of the world is a lot like drowning – inevitable, dragging, and breathless.

His eyes follow me through the writhing crowd, but it doesn't matter. I'm already gone.

Seven minutes, three seconds

I push the door open, the cool air rushing in behind me and tugging at my sleeves. The world is trying to keep me inside, where I can die among friends. But long ago I decided that when the sun goes out, I want to watch the sky go black. I want the memory of oblivion to be the last thing I see, branded onto the inside of my eyelids.

The doors don't scream when I open them, the way I always imagined they would. It was disappointing – skipping school shouldn't be as easy as opening a door. If you've never been trapped, then you can never know freedom. But maybe the end was in itself a kind of freedom.

I walk down to the soccer field. I force myself not to run, because this is something I need to take in. The crisp blue sky, and the angel-wing clouds, and the feel of the breeze on my skin. So much like the taste of him on my lips, a taste already fading. In the light of the end, every color seems brighter, like some unnamed god had poured a vat of jewels over our heads, as if in apology for the end of everything.

I kick at the pebbles on the path. They skitter anxiously along the sidewalk, and I hear panic in the high school behind me. We've lived our whole lives waiting for a chance to break free. Now we're drowning in chances, because when the sun blows, that dam of high school regulations will send a storm of teenagers running. We will flow through the streets and into the wilderness, where we belong.

I lie in the grass and watch the clouds skate across the sky. What's the point of running when there is nowhere to hide?

Five minutes, thirty-seven seconds

I feel rather than see her beside me, fixated as I am on the cobalt sky. The heat of her body lying parallel to mine, the grass bending under her, lying in a field at the end of the world. It's something we both decided we needed to do, if and when the world ended. It was something jokingly exchanged over lunch, at sleepovers, on bus rides. But somehow I knew that she had taken it just as seriously as I had.

So when the end came, we didn't panic. We knew how we wanted to spend those last eight minutes.

"How was it?" she asks, her voice quiet, so we could still hear the birdsong in the trees.

I don't need to ask what she's talking about. "Nice. Different." I skirt the edge of the blazing sun with my eyes, tempted to look straight into it.

I look away.

Four minutes, forty-five seconds

It's not until I hear the crackle of plastic wrap that I lift my head and look at her, really look at her, at the hard cast of her eyes and the blush in her cheeks. My friend – my very best friend – was fighting to keep herself from unraveling, fighting to keep control over those loose ends.

We have eight minutes to live. There is no time for second guessing.

"Want one?" She pushes the container of Oreos towards me, and I take one, relishing on the sweet taste of sugar on my tongue. Oreos and sunlight and stolen kisses: not a happily ever after, but the closest I am going to get. It was enough. It had to be.

We sit in silence. There is no time for words. Oblivion is something you can choke on. The realization comes and goes with the tide, and we will ride it into the end, but not before we drown in it.

Four minutes, three seconds

We wander into the woods like we're lost. There is a worn path, from years of cross country runs and nature walks, winding through the oaks and maples and down to the stream. We follow it. The birdsong surrounds us, and I am not afraid.

We stand at the edge of the stream, and jump. The cold water is a shock, but it is a sweet one, and it wakes me up.

This is the end of the world. This is important. This is the last thing that will ever be important.

I turn to her and splash water in her face. We still had time. Time to swim in the river in the middle of the day, under the trees, under the sky. I dove under, and above me, the sky looked like a notion.

I'm not hiding from the end. I'm just living in it.

Two minutes, fifteen seconds

We scramble over the bank, water dragging at our jeans and sneakers. We're soaked through, cool water caressing our skin and begging us to stay. It would be so easy to just sit in the river until the end came, hidden under the trees. But this is the end of the world, and not a time for taking the easy way out.

So we return to the field, to our outlines in the grass like the echoes of snow angels. The package of Oreos is still there, shining lazily in the sun. It seems fitting that the day the sun goes out dawned bright and strong, the sun singing over our heads. It is the sun's last hoorah, and it is going to make its mark.

It is so peaceful. The sun lifts the water from my weary limbs, and I am so tired.

One minute, thirty seconds

"Hey." Her voice comes out as a whisper, even though there is no one else to hear it. "What do you think comes… comes after?" She gestures at the world with her nimble pianist's fingers. "When all of this is gone?"

"Nothing." My reply is short, clipped, indifferent. "This is the end of everything."

"So you don't think there's something more? Something… better?" She's hopeful. I can tell. And so, so scared.

"I don't know. Maybe." My response falls flat, because I'm just humoring her. "I guess I'll see you there. You know, after."

We dance around that word, after. No one wants to think about what comes after the end of the world.

"Let's just lay here," she whispers, the words snatched away by the breeze. "Let's just lay here until it ends."

Fifty-five seconds

"Are you scared?"

"Not really."

"I am."

"I know."

Thirty-six seconds

"What do you regret?"

The question takes me by surprise, as does the answer that bubbles to my lips. "Not telling him sooner."

She smiles, but I can't tell. My eyes are tethered to the sky. "So if you could go back…?"

"I wouldn't. This is enough for me." But it's not.

"You'd die young?"

"Don't we all? We never have enough time. At least we know our deadline."

My joke falls flat.

Twenty-four seconds

I don't notice him coming up behind me until his shadow crosses my face. I look up, distracted. Then I blush.

"Hey."

"Hey."

He joins us in the grass, and my words echo in my head. This is enough.

Nineteen seconds

The sun flickers ever so slightly in the sky. We don't comment, but we do rise to our feet. People trickle out of the school to stare, and everything is. oh. so. quiet.

Sixteen seconds

She grabs my hand, and I can feel her pulse racing under her skin. I tear my eyes from the sky for the briefest moment to smile at her, but I can see the fear in her face. I give her hand a squeeze, and go back to looking.

Ten seconds

He turns me around with shaking hands, and I look into his eyes. I can see the sun reflected there, and I know that our time is almost up. His face is expressionless, and I wonder for a moment. What would I have done? If the world wasn't ending today, if there was still time? Would I have made that kiss into something more? Something real?

It's funny. The world is ending, and what I am really terrified of is that what if.

Then, he kisses me, and I forget to be afraid.

Six seconds

We are all watching the sky now.

Five seconds

No one says anything. There are no words.

Four seconds

No words to describe what it feels like to drown in oblivion.

Three seconds

My best friend is beside me, and I hold her hand in mine. And he is there too, the what if that I fear so much.

Two seconds

The world is ending, but my world is right here.

One second

I look straight into the sun for the first time, the blinding white light burning into my eyes, branding me, marking me, making me into something new. It's like the world is a kiln, and I am the soft, moldable clay being burnt into something beautiful.

And then everything goes black.

When the sun goes out, we have eight minutes. Eight minutes before the light is gone, and the darkness rushes in. Eight minutes before the warmth dissipates, and we are instead left with an eternity of cold. Eight minutes to live. Eight minutes to die.

It takes eight minutes.

Eight minutes, and that is enough.