This story is for Chuck Wendig’s weekly Flash Fiction Challenge, Let Fate Choose Your Title. I wrote this story really fast (homework is getting really old, guys) so I know some of the wording is a bit awkward, but I think I like it overall.
Please comment 🙂
God took six days to create the world. They say he only rested for one day, but I think he must have fallen asleep on the job after that, because one day he woke up and he looked down upon his earth and he hated it enough to destroy it.
We didn’t see it coming. Not until the skies burned and crumbled in on themselves. We all burned. Most of us burned in hell.
I didn’t. My burns were healed and I got a new life in heaven.
It was the first eschaton. The first end of the world.
A select few survived in heaven—He called them pure, but we call ourselves lucky, for the fact that we hadn’t gotten around to being greedy or selfish or lustful before the world crashed down around our heads wasn’t much of a consolation when our friends were dead and sin sounded like a damn good alternative to thinking about that.
Time in heaven was a curse, never passing the way it should, never tangible; there were no clocks. I was not as young as I was when I died, but I had not grown enough to be the man I had planned to become. And yet I knew that I had been here in this new world for eons, long enough that the glimmer of heaven dimmed and the taunts of earth trickled back into the shadows and the corners.
God looked down again and hated what he saw enough to destroy his heaven. My friends, my brethren, were shoved out of heaven. I listened to their screams as they fell and wondered if hell really existed, or if they just landed on the burnt scraps of our forgotten earth and got to start over, knowing God had moved on to higher and mightier dissections.
That was the second eschaton.
Our second heaven was trickier. God had learned that even the purest aren’t pure, and he wanted proof of our sin. Every move was watched. Every day was a test to see if you were worthy—and in how many days God would once again throw down his lightning bolts and “fix” his world.
We saw the third eschaton and the fourth eschaton coming. Every consecutive heaven was slicker, crueler, a world built of egg shells, with houses built from cards. Somehow, I survived. Somehow I am one of the few—and by few, we are still countless—that persist.
Why His obsession with perfection? These days, I prod at the boundaries, my temptation to sin overpowered second to my exhaustion from playing this game.
Isn’t this Greed—to whittle away at His creations, searching for perfection?
* * *
The skies are darker than they were yesterday.
I share a glance with Sophie and we both know what it means.
The end is nigh.
The end has been nigh too many times by now for me to care.
I walk down the street, not with her, but beside her. We don’t talk. I am going to the grocery store, she is going to the bakery. We have our excuses wrapped around us as armor. We are strangers, a coincidence, nothing more, move along. But we share smiles when we see Grandpa Brett, the knobby old man who barks at foot traffic in broken bible verses, on his corner, and when we glance down the alley the Ham brothers use to collect broken bits of heaven. If God asks, they are artists, but for us they are our preachers, gathering evidence that this isn’t paradise. This is just another broken earth.
We turn a corner and slow our steps. Our destinations are on this street, but we aren’t willing to part yet. Not with a dark sky and the clench of foreboding in our stomachs.
Days from now, how will the world end? In fire? With lightning? In the pitch black? With the earth shattering beneath us or the sky raining down from above us?
She bites her lip and turns away from me to read the bookstore sign. I watch her hair flutter around her face, and I don’t understand why it is fascinating. I turn away and watch Mrs. Tild putter around the coffee shop, her graying hair contained in a severe bun at the base of her skull, organizing my thoughts.
I’m so tired of avoiding life in order to pass some tyrant’s test. I’m ready for the experiment to be over, and if I am a data point on the side of failure than at least I have found my place.
“You know, we’ve been using the wrong word all this time,” she says.
I jump. “What?” I ask.
“Escahton. We’ve taken it to mean the end of the world. But there is another part of the definition.”
She’s been to the library we all pretend God doesn’t know about. Maybe he really doesn’t, if she’s found information like this. I nod, afraid yet eager to hear what she will say.
“It can also mean the climax of history.”
I stare at her, and her eyes are brown and wide, brimming with discovery that I know will no doubt doom her. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s like this: There’s this theory that history is a pendulum. Some problem will build itself up in society until it climaxes, and then society swings back ‘down’ away from the extreme, until they overcorrect themselves and start construction on the opposite side of the issue. Another climax, and you’re rocketing back to the original conflict. The pattern continues; history is a cycle that we never learn from, and never escape.”
“What God doesn’t understand is that his eschatons are just those climaxes. He purges the world of sin, but we’re just going to swing back to that side of the arc. It’s perpetual, inevitable. We can be the best we’ll ever be and we still won’t pass his test, and we’ll still swing back to the side of immorality, no matter how many traps and tests and threats he builds into his world.”
“Yes,” I say. It’s not enough, but I’ve never been good with words.
She knows this, and smiles, but there are shadows behind her eyes. “We can’t win. We are stuck in game that we play only to lose. The questions is not whether we will fall, but when.”
The ground trembles, like my words dropped out of my mouth and hit the earth with enough force to rock the street.
There is fear in her eyes. Understanding the end of the world does not make it less frightening.
The sky shivers, and the sun goes out.
My hand jerks out instinctively, but I’m surprised when hers finds mine as well. I grip it tightly. Our palms are sweaty. I feel her heartbeat race where our wrists are pressed together.
The ground around us drops, and an ominous red glow oozes up from below. I glance over the edge, and there is no ground, no earth, no heavens from before.
“I’m afraid of heights,” I say, stepping back from the precipice. A futile gesture, when this entire world will be gone in minutes.
She steps with me, leaning closer to me. “It’s the actual fall that scares me.”
The ground jerks below us, and I know I’m playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded gun. I’ve run out of luck. This time, I will not pass the test.
The ground vanishes, and for one millisecond, we are suspended in the air, together, immortal.
And then we fall.