The world is ending. I am twenty years old, I’ve barely gotten a taste of life, and the world is ending. Except, right now, sitting in my car in the middle of an eerily abandoned road, it all feels so far away. Cars litter the sides of the road, foliage growing in the cracks of the door and the empty spaces on the surface. The sound from the old car is crackling through the radio, filling up the empty space with melodies. The sun sits high in the sky, blanketed by clouds, and I don’t know where I am. I have long since lost the way to my original destination, my hometown’s graveyard. It’s been three months since they announced the end. It replays in the back of my mind every time I close my eyes.
“This time it’s for real, folks,” the woman said, sadly but still with the ghost of a smile curving her lips. Can’t forget T.V. etiquette, now can we? I run through how they explained it’d happen for the millionth time.
“There’s an enormous asteroid that has been nearing Earth at an alarming rate for a long time now. Scientists were sure it’d slide right by, but a few days ago, it altered its course. It is heading straight for us now, and the projected impact date is January 18th, 2016.”
I was never really into science, but I felt that for this occasion, a bit of research would be necessary. They were saying that this asteroid could potentially be the size of the moon, and as soon as it breached Earth’s atmosphere, it’d be pummeling towards us at over 30,000 miles per hour. Most life would be wiped out immediately, and any survivors would probably wish they had died with the initial impact, because the ash and dust will cloud the sky and fill the atmosphere for years, killing all producers and therefore slowly destroying all vegetation and causing food shortages.
I breathe in through my nose, and breathe out warmth into my gloved hands, staring straight ahead and listening to the hum of my engine. I live in Pearl River, New York, a small town amidst the roaring city life. Close enough to get to it when I feel like I need it, but far enough to take a break and settle down, too.
Here, miles away from my family, with the airports shut down, I feel an impending sense of dread take over me. I switch the radio to a different station.
“No but seriously!” The host laughs, probably finishing a ridiculous story. I start driving again, just drifting while trying to find a place to sleep for tonight. Crime rates have increased dramatically, as expected of course. Can’t trust anyone nowadays.
“Anyway,” a woman with a dainty voice says, “today is January 16th, 2016, it is 12:46 PM, and the countdown date for the ‘Last Bang’, as people have taken to calling it, is 2 days, 7 hours, and 34 minutes.”
I turn off my radio and inhale deeply and exhale through my mouth, like I’ve been taught to do from a young age to calm down. I decide to rule out sleep, but pull up to a motel anyway. Their sign advertises free coffee, so I hope that all their supplies weren’t stolen. I park my car and come out, pulling my sweater around me tightly, hearing the crunch of last night’s snow beneath my boots. It hasn’t snowed today, but the temperature is still at a record low, which is ironic considering that soon we’re supposedly going to be engulfed in flames. At least, North America, which is the projected impact site. Everyone responded to that with scrambling and trying their best to get the hell away from here, but we were stuck. Doomed to die, with only ashes and a crater of the world we once had left behind to show for all we had accomplished.
Walking up the motel’s small office, I see that they have a coffee pot in the window. I open the door, but nobody is behind the counter. A small sign in front of bits of food in plates reads, “Take what you need. God bless.” I smile at the ability of some people to still be so kind in this time of utter chaos and crisis. I take a donut and nibble on the edges. It’s a bit stale, but it’ll have to do. It’s much better than the canned foods I’ve been living off for the past day. As I walk around, I notice a calendar on the wall. January 18th is circled in bright red marker, bold and thick and the days after that have been crossed out with a giant X. A sense of sadness overtakes me when I consider that I’ll never live past that circled day. Today, January 16th, says something on it. In messy handwriting, it reads, “Toss away the ‘Could Haves’ and ‘Should Haves’ Day.”
I stop, and for a little while I stand there, holding the donut in my hand and staring at the words in the calendar.
“I can teach you how to celebrate it,” Someone says from behind me.
I jump, holding a hand up to my chest to steady my beating heart. When I turn to face the person, it’s a little girl, couldn’t be more than seven years old, and she’s holding a sheet of paper and a pen in her little hands. Her hair is a dirty blonde, cascading down her shoulders in little ringlets, her eyes are a hazel brown with flecks of green in them. She smiles, so full of life. My heart immediately aches for her, and I can’t help but run through a number of things she will never get to do in my mind.
I smile at her and she repeats herself, “I can tell you what you’re supposed to do today. My dad is making fresh coffee in the back, you can come if you’d like. I’m Andy, by the way.”
I am about to say no, but when she tells me her name, all I can see is my little brother, crying in the doorway of my room. I think about his unkempt curly brown hair and the way his green eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled. So I work up the biggest smile I’ve had in a long time, and I say yes. She ushers me behind the counter and through a door that leads to a hallway. At the end of the hallway, there’s a little living room setting and a man is sitting, watching the news with a mug of something that smells delicious in his hands. I quickly stuff the rest of the donut into my mouth and chew viciously.
“Poppa, look! She wants to know how to play the paper game we were playing earlier!” Her dad looks up, eyes wide as he stares at me. I raise my hands in surrender, working through the shock of hearing her call her dad poppa. My brother used to do the same thing.
“I’m just passing through sir. She seemed like she wanted a friend,” I explain. “My name is Amelia, I’m twenty.” He nods, still keeping a watchful eye on me, though.
“Andy give her the supplies and take her to the table. Would you like some coffee, Amelia?” I take the pen and paper from Andy, and nod gratefully at her father and thank him. Andy leads me to a separate room, it seems like it’s a dining room, and she sits down at a table and swings her legs back and forth. I sit next to her and she begins to explain.
“You have to write your biggest regret on this piece of paper, and then we’ll crumple it up and use my dad’s lighter to set it on fire.” She says, innocently, and I blow out a shaky breath. Nodding, I set my pen to my paper. And then I blank out. So many things are racing through my mind, it’s hard to hold on to a single thought.
“I said mine was not being able to tell the pretty girl in my math class that I thought she was beautiful.” Andy says, encouraging me.
And in that moment, something inside of me broke. My brother’s voice flooded back into my memory, echoing through every crevice. His name was Andrew. He was fifteen when he passed away last year. He was bullied, just because of who he was. I know what my biggest regret is now. With a soft, knowing smile to the little, innocent girl beside me, I write it down. Then hand it to her.
“Not answering the phone on February 6th, 2015,” She reads aloud.
“What does this mean?” She looks at me with her wide brown eyes and urges me to answer. Just then, her dad walks in and hands me a mug of coffee. I smile up at him in gratitude and shift back to Andy.
I think about explaining the situation to her but rule against it, some things are too much for a little girl. I had a little brother named Andrew, and he liked a boy in his class. When he told somebody, they told everyone else. Soon, the boy found out, and he stopped talking to Andrew. I remember him coming into my room and crying on my shoulder because nobody wanted to hang out with him anymore. On February 6th, he wanted to talk to me. He needed me. But I was on a date. I was too busy to answer the phone and he was the one who paid the price. The next time I saw him after that was in the hospital.
Instead of telling her all of this, I take a sip of the steaming liquid to distract myself, and say, “My brother thought someone was beautiful, too.”
I take the time to smile at her through the tears and watch as her father, who is sitting across from me in the table, stares lovingly at his daughter. She nods slowly, as if I had just told her a grave secret, delicate face taking on serious expressions.
Seeing the sadness written across my face, she wraps her small arms lovingly around my neck. When she pulls away, I wipe at a few stray tears that managed to escape, and stand.
“I should be going now,” I clear my throat.
“Are you sure you won’t be needing anything?” The father asks. I smile at his kindness and shake my head.
“No, thank you. You’ve both been nothing but kind. I wish you two the best.” And then Andy is running up to me, flailing the paper in her hands.
“Wait! We need to burn the paper first!” And then the next thing I know, her and her father and pulling on their coats and following me out the door. We make it to the parking lot and Andy blows hot air into her hands and hops from foot to foot.
“Oh, I’m Mason, by the way,” her dad says while handing me the lighter. Andy gives me the paper and nods while smiling silent encouragement. With shaking hands, I use the lighter to set the paper on fire, and let my regret, guilt, and sorrow burn with the scribbled words.
“Thank you Mason. And thank you especially, Andy.” I kneel down to her size and fix her little coat.
“You would’ve made a fine young lady.” I try to stay cheery but there’s an undertone of utter sadness laced in my voice and I pull her in for a short hug before firmly shaking Mason’s hand and walking towards my car. I wave at them one last time before opening the door, getting in, and pulling away from the motel. I get back on the road, and as I drive, I swear I can still smell the burning embers.