prompt: sign, title: relative measures in "the next big thing" flash fiction

  • Dec. 13, 2021, 2:13 p.m.
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  • Public

There are few phrases with a stronger one-two of power and malleability in our English than “the end of the world”. It means so damned much to so many but also a different thing to nearly every person who hears or speaks it. The literal destruction of Earth, yes, the ruination of this planet as a suitable biome for the humanity it sired, sure, but also the end of a community, the end of some foundational idea, the end of one short life, the end of one tiny dream. It has been thrown around, mutated, commodified a thousand different ways, to sell guns and non-perishable foods and guns and software upgrades and guns. One of Frank’s busking colleagues carried a “The End Is Near” sign around, not because he believed it himself, but because that crazy doomsayer in a hair-shirt is deeply ingrained as a cultural trope. He aped the cliché for photos with tourists on Hollywood Boulevard as a laugh and made a middle-class living doing it. Better than selling rifles, I guess.

The world ends different for everyone. For Mitzi’s ancestors, the burning of the second Temple in 70 CE. For Frank’s roommate, during his freshman year of college when he was outed to his parents as a homosexual. For Frank’s friend Joe, when he was replaced as Michael Jackson and had to spend the rest of his life busking out an imitation of his own younger self. When my own father died. For the scientist stalking Frank in hopes of medical advancements, the first time he noticed the tremor in his hands. For Frank, of course, when he awoke to him himself the last of his kind on this Earth. There’s one concrete similarity between all of these disparate desperate world-end scenarios, however. After the world ended, we all still had to try to go on living anyhow.

That’s the rub. A world ends but another must be cobbled together anyway, a retreat to Masada, putting down the baseball bat and picking up a test-tube, another working day on the streets of Dreamland. You die or I die but a new world without us keeps turning. Some day when our sun expands and reduces this island Earth to a cinder, the aliens watching us in the HR 6819 system won’t notice for a thousand years at best, what with how light-speed crawls.

Until humans invented reliably ocean-worthy ships a scant few millennia back, the end of the world was also any ocean’s shore. From the Denny’s at Sunset and Gower, it’s less than fifteen miles to the Santa Monica Pier, maybe a half hour’s drive at three in the morning, perhaps only four hours in the usual traffic. Either way, after that, you could stand there and look out at what is for anyone unaided by quite-recent technology, the full-stop end of the world. But afterward, after a doomed staring contest with the infinite, you’d have to eventually stop and ask yourself the question: “Okay, now what?”

Last updated December 13, 2021

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