The End of the Universe

A futuristic short story

This is another story written on a Saturday afternoon with the Lisbon Writers. The prompt was the end of the universe. We’d also been talking about finding our own writing voice and learning from emulating great writers. James Joyce came up and I decided to give his prose style a go. Needless to say the original was far better than my attempt. But I enjoyed the exercise and learned a lot, including how efficient Joyce was in the crafting of his sentences. The punctuation was also Joycean, and interesting to experiment with as well.

We’ve come to see the end of the universe, Molly and me. The trip of a lifetime.

– All lifetimes, all everything, Molly opines, sweaty hand gripping slippery phone, tickets glowing on screen.

Through the gate, jostled by millions, plaingrand nothing special.

– Makes everything feel normal, nothing to worry about. 

Molly again.

She rambles when the nerves get her. Her idea to do this trip, her nerves to deal with, but I take her hand. Griped tight. Through the gate, like we’re going to the funfair. Tickets inspected by a red beam seeall scanner. Washed along by the impatient crowd. Up the stairs, two, three at a time.

– No pushing in the main hall. Take your reserved seat. Flight will commence in one hour, the speakers blare over roaring humanity.

We’ve come to see the end, the end of everything.

Rushing, pushing, plunging, shoving people on every side. The ticket has an arrow, wave the phone and the arrow spins compass like, guiding down the maze of jet black grid layout chairs. Most still empty, some test-driven by newfound owners, leaning back, head rest deployed gazing up through the still blank overhead window.

– It’s bigger than a football stadium. Molly’s grip tightens, fear quivers her voice. Minute sweat droplets on her downy top lip. – We’re not going to make it to our seats in time.

– Time’s running out for all of us. 

Bad joke, not appreciated. Molly turns, following the arrow, down a flight of stairs. Only not down, Escheresque, down becomes up in a sick stomach twisting reversal.

– There is no up or down in space. 

Molly emerges at the top of the flight to another checkerboard row of seats. Arrow turns from red through orange to green.

– Here. 

Molly plops down, bouncing faux black leather enveloping plush. Lets go of my hand and grips armrest. It’s suitably high-tech. Makes up for the amphitheatre feel of the ship.

– Ladies and Gentlemen, please take your seats, departure to the end of the universe will be in ten minutes. Please ensure all seats are in the upright position and safety restraints are fully deployed.

– Hurry, Molly says, anxiety lighting pale blue eyes. 

I strap in. Ten minutes can feel like eternity. What will the end of eternity feel like?

Engines drown all sound, more shaking than I expected. We’re not escaping a gravity well, we’re shooting through time. Does time have friction? 

Memory rolls back, morning at the breakfast table. Sunlight streaming in, two heads bowed over the pamphlet. Retirement gift, better than a round the world trip. I have my doubts but it’s too late to say so.

Heaving, shuddering, thundering ends abruptly. I feel the need to check I haven’t lost consciousness. Relief washes over as majestic music fills the air, gut tightens in anticipation.

– Ladies and gentlemen, our tour of the end of the universe is about to begin. The ship will open its windows now. For best viewing we recommend you push your seats right back.

Shaky smile from Molly, emotion overcome, voice lost but no matter, too much noise to hear her, anyway.

I lie back, suspended weightless in gravitychair. The shields clatter back, light gradually dims then turns off. Velvet blackness envelopes us, floating in space. I stop breathing, realise, and take a breath. It comes out like a gasp.

– Our ship will now start a series of pre-programmed time jumps. The end of the universe takes place over millennia. To benefit from the full effect, we will take you on an epic journey through time. Please enjoy the ride.

No need for that. My dream is fulfilled, floating in space, Molly by my side, galaxies spiralling around.

The time jumps are smooth, imperceptible, must be smaller than the takeoff. I drift, not noticing at first as the outer edge galaxies dim and vanish.

– It’s getting smaller.

Whispers from the dark seeing what I see. Galaxies drifting together. It feels like we’re floating away, further and further into the dark. 

– What happens in the end? Molly’s voice, soft, uncertain, the fear is back. – What happens when it all ends?

A slow motion reverse firework, galaxies coalesce from millions to hundreds, from hundreds to dozens from dozens to one bright white dot. It hangs in eternity, impossible to believe it can’t go on forever.

I take Molly’s velvetsoft, trembling hand. Comfort for her, courage for me.

Time’s up. The ship lights come back orangebrown through yellow to white. We shoot back to our time before the last ember vanishes.

Nothing happens at the end of the universe. Nothing.