There's a song by Radiohead called 'No Surprises', and the song always gave me the feeling that the world was about to end, and everyone was just waiting. There was no reason to work, to protest, to organise, because it really didn't matter anymore. It was those few moments after death...but before the end, when there was no reason to do, all that was left, was to be.
If I had the choice, it's the song that I'd die listening to.
I wanted to create that feeling in this story.
â€œYou heard.â€ He said, unsure himself of whether his words were directed as a statement or a question. Whichever it was, she nodded in response.
â€œEveryone heard. My Dadâ€™s T.V hasnâ€™t had any reception in years, but they still found a way to broadcast to us.â€ She said.
Almost in unison, they turned their faces to the sky. Somewhere out there, above the thin grey mist that hung over the sky, in the darkness of space, a giant ball of fire and gas was hurtling towards them at speeds faster than anyone could even begin to contemplate, tearing up anything that got in its path.
Nad remembered a video he had been shown once, back when he has still bothered to attend school. A simulation of what would happen if a something of this size collided with the Earth. Fire had spread in a colossal wave, engulfing the crust of the earth in just a few hours. Tokyo, Paris and London crumbled under the heat long before the wave even hit. The oceans boiled, becoming nothing in the face of the great wave that devoured all. The skies burned and crumbled, spitting fire and dust back onto the blackened earth below. Forests withered and vanished inside the flames, revealing nothing but barren, charred earth when the fire had passed. Even the mountains themselves were levelled under the unstoppable onslaught. The Earth boiled and simmered, magma from untapped wells beneath the surface having burst forth and covered everything. When it cooled, the earth was flat, black, and dead. The fire eventually dissipated, leaving the Earth as nothing more than a gleaming ball of rock hurtling through space, silenced for the first time in countless millions of years, but for the howling of the wind as it arced over the Earthâ€™s smooth surface.
There had been something strangely beautiful about the end result. It had seemed, in a very morbid way, peaceful. After all, wasnâ€™t death always meant to be peaceful? And this was death on such a massive scale, an entire planet of peace. The thought had made his spine tingle.
But Nad had forgotten the animation the next day, the images of fire and destruction washed from his mind by the trivialities of everyday life. He had only attended school for two more years. Then, at the age of fourteen, he had dropped out. It wasnâ€™t strictly legal, but very few people abided by the old laws these days. School wasnâ€™t what he needed. It wasnâ€™t going to get him a job, or food on the table, it wasnâ€™t going to get him a girl, or look after his parents, whom had grown prematurely senile, as so many people did these days. Education wasnâ€™t going to help him in the short term, or otherwise. He had no plans for life, no commitments, no hopes or dreams, so why was the thought of death breaking his heart so?
He lowered his eyes, and saw that Letti was watching him. Remorse flooded him as he gazed at her frail figure. She had always been weak, sometimes taking on the appearance of little more than a skeleton for months at a time. Asthma, epilepsy, anemia, and countless other chronic illnesses had plagued her since childhood. Nature, it seemed, had done all that it could to eradicate her, and luck hadnâ€™t exactly been on her side either. She had suffered more serious injuries than Nad could count, from broken arms to lacerations along her thigh, brought upon her by wild dogs. Three years ago, she had been blinded permanently in her right eye after a fight with her youngest sister. At first, she had tried to cover the injured feature with her hair, but she had abandoned the attempts, and now, her hair was tied back in a loose ponytail. The twisted lump of skin that now covered her eye stood out shamelessly, obscured only slightly by her glasses, which bore several small cracks.
Nad had never given any thought to where he might live in the future, or how he would earn money, or what kind of person he would be. He realised now, though, that whenever he had looked to the future that he hoped to have, he had always seen Letti. So many others had rejected her because she was different, because of the care and concern that was required just to be around her, but he had never seemed to mind. Lettiâ€™s gentle personality had made loving her easy.
â€œHow long do you think we have?â€ Lettiâ€™s voice sliced through his thoughts, and all thoughts of the future that he would never have vanished in an instant. He shrugged.
â€œUntil dawn, if weâ€™re lucky.â€ He said. The indifference in his voice surprised him. When Letti remained silent, he asked quietly.
â€œWhat dâ€™you want to do?â€ She laughed, bitterly. A sound that was unfamiliar coming from her, but he knew what she was thinking. These were the last hours of their lives. How the hell did they spend it?
Lettiâ€™s smile changed a little, softening somewhat. Her eyes gleamed, and she held out her hand. â€œLetâ€™s walk.â€ She suggested. He took her hand, feeling the warmth of her skin, and the life that was pulsing through her veins.
The streets were full of people, half-dazed and lost. They wandered without purpose, as though they were sleepwalkers. Letti and Nad passed them by, uncaring. They had no idea where they were going, but it didnâ€™t matter. It was enough that they were walking, that they were together. The wind whipped Lettiâ€™s hair around her face, but she didnâ€™t seem to mind. Above them, the stars shone as they always had, bright and beautiful. It was hard to believe that one of them was soon to collide with the Earth, destroying everything.
â€œI used to be scared of dying, when I was a kid.â€ Letti said, suddenly. â€œIt terrified me so much. I remember crying about it, some nights.â€
Nad blinked, surprised. â€œIâ€™ve never though about it.â€ He admitted. â€œI mean, I knew I had my whole life ahead of meâ€¦â€ He trailed off, realising that all those years, he had been wrong. He would never live beyond the meagre age of sixteen. He gripped Lettiâ€™s hand a little tighter.
â€œI didnâ€™t.â€ Letti said. â€œI always told myself I only had a couple of years left. Whenever I got sick again, I always thought I was going to die. Iâ€™d spend weeks in bed and just get weaker and weakerâ€¦and there was nothing to stop me from thinking about it. I didnâ€™t want to die, but I couldnâ€™t help it.â€ She took a breath, and Nad wondered if she was really as calm as she seemed. â€œWhen I got older, I kinda found ways to make it better. Iâ€™d tell myself that when I died, my body would break down and be used to make more life. Trees and water and airâ€¦and when I was air, Iâ€™d eventually become part of the vibrations in the air that register in the human brain as music.â€ She broke off, and grinned apologetically. â€œI donâ€™t mean to get sentimental or anythingâ€¦but it always used to help, that kind of thing.â€ Nad nodded. His throat had become dry.
â€œI neverâ€¦never thought about that.â€ He said, wishing he could say more. He suddenly felt remarkably shallow next to Letti, who had been forced to face the prospect of death more times than he could count. Only now was he truly realising how hard it must have been for her, always expecting death to be waiting for her around the next corner. He glanced at her, at her impassive expression, and wondered what she was feeling.
For a moment, Letti stiffened slightly. â€œDo youâ€¦â€ She hesitated, casting a glance at him. Her expression was strained, as though there was something she was dying to say, but she was unsure whether he would take her seriously. Nad realised they had stopped walking, and now, they were more or less alone, but for a few figures flitting through the shadows in the distance. He met her eyes.
â€œWhat is it?â€ She laughed, and said, airily.
â€œDo you think thereâ€™ll still be musicâ€¦I mean, after weâ€™re all gone?â€ She spoke quickly, doing her best to act as though she had just plucked the question out of the air, but he could tell from the way she was watching from his face for any kind of reaction that the question meant a lot to her. He glanced at the sky, and at the darkness surrounding him. The night was alive, he realised. Everything was moving, shaking, trees were bending and groaning, windows were rattling, and tiny particles of dust and earth were being blown in a constant stream around his feet. He knew what his answer was. Smiling, he told her to listen, and she did. Her eyes, too, traveled across the landscape, and after a few moments, she smiled.
â€œThe wind.â€ She said. He nodded.
â€œThereâ€™ll always be wind.â€ He said, and then he shrugged. â€œMaybe itâ€™ll remember us for long enough to stop moaning, and one day, itâ€™ll start singing for whoever comes after us.â€
Letti laughed, nervously, and then stopped. She looked at him strangely, unsure of what to think of what he had said. He grinned, knowing how strange he must have sounded. He didnâ€™t mind. In these last few hours of his life, he wanted to be insane. He wanted to be free.
Letti smiled, almost playfully. â€œAre you feeling okay?â€ She asked, with a slight laugh. He grinned. He wanted to tell her that he felt amazing. He could do anything he wanted now, and no one would care. And what he wanted, more than anything else in the world, was to laugh, and be with Letti, and chase the wind and the stars until they led him to the end of the world.
He caught sight of Letti, watching him, and saw that she wasnâ€™t smiling anymore. There were tears gleaming in her eyes. As suddenly as it had came, his smile faded, and his sense of drunken euphoria left him.
â€œOh god.â€ He said. A heavy weight had dropped into his stomach, and with it had come the sudden realisation: he was going to die.
â€œOhâ€¦god.â€ He repeated. He felt his legs trembling, and squeezed Lettiâ€™s hand, as though for support. He felt, in the same moment, that her whole arm was trembling, but nonetheless, she squeezed back.
â€œI canâ€™t believe itâ€™s happeningâ€¦like this.â€ He said, his voice trembling. He looked up at the sky, and for one terrifying moment, he thought the vast, unending darkness was leaning towards him, about to fall and crush him, but a moment later, the wave of nausea passed, and he found himself kneeling on the damp earth. A jolt of fear ran through him as he realised that he was no longer holding Lettiâ€™s hand, but was clutching his own head. Like a lost child, reaching for his mother, he raised his hand blindly into the darkness, searching for her. A moment later, he felt her delicate fingers clasp his, and sighed in relief. Letti dropped to her knees beside him, and lowered herself into a sitting position, with her knees raised in front of her. She wrapped her free arm around her legs, without letting go of Nadâ€™s hand. He followed her example, folding his legs beneath him, so that he was sitting cross-legged on the ground, then he raised his eyes skyward. He couldnâ€™t be certain, but a shiver ran down his spine as he saw that one of the stars closer to the horizon seemed far larger and brighter than all of the others. He watched it, a dull sense of foreboding creeping into him. Had it been there before? Could it beâ€¦? Nad brushed the thought away; he didnâ€™t want to think about that.
It seemed an eternity later when Letti next spoke.
â€œI hope it doesnâ€™t come too soon.â€ She said. Nad was jerked out his thoughts. He turned to her, and examined her face. She was staring at the sky, as he had been, unblinking. She almost seemed as though she was in a trance. He wondered whether she was even aware of having spoken.
â€œI donâ€™t mind.â€ He said, and Letti dragged her eyes away from the stars. She looked at him, waiting for him to continue. â€œI mean, if itâ€™s going to happenâ€¦I guess I donâ€™t mind whether it happens sooner or later. It doesnâ€™t make a difference, really.â€
â€œOh.â€ Letti said, her eyes widening a fraction. â€œI donâ€™t meanâ€¦that I want more time. Itâ€™s just, I wouldnâ€™t mind seeingâ€¦another sunrise, before I go.â€ She forced a small laugh. Nad smiled, and turned his eyes to the gleaming speck just above the horizon. It was closer now; he was certain of it.
â€œMe too.â€ He said, simply, but he couldnâ€™t bring himself to believe that he would. There was some kind of strange energy about this night, it gave him the feeling that the world had already ended, that time had stopped, and all that remained was this moment, this stillness, and all there was left to do, was to wait for the explosion that would end them, along with it. How could there be anything after this night? How could there be a sunrise? No, he was certain, this night was infinite.
They sat for hours, just talking, small words that would soon be lost forever. The spark above the horizon seemed to be sinking, lower and lower, and at the same time, growing larger, until it was almost as large as the moon. It shone a strange, yellow light on them. Eventually, it sank below the horizon, momentarily turning the sky a deep shade of red, before fading to black. He glanced at Letti, and wondered if they were thinking the same thing.
It wouldnâ€™t be long, now.
A little while later, the first tremor shook the earth. Lettiâ€™s head, which had been drooping slightly, jerked upwards. She glanced around at the earth, almost frantically, and then her gaze landed on Nad. Her eyes were wide, and even as they parted, forming words, her lips were trembling. Whatever she had been going to say, the words died on her tongue, and she closed her mouth. Her jaw was clenched.
â€œAre you okay?â€ The words were out of his mouth before Nad realised that he was speaking. Letti looked at him, her eyes wide and frantic, but after a momentâ€™s hesitation, she smiled, and gave a small nod. The smile remained for a heartbeat, before fading. She looked exhausted.
â€œNo.â€ She admitted, shaking her head. â€œCan weâ€¦keep moving? Please?â€ Nad opened his mouth to speak, but Letti stood without waiting for an answer, and started moving into the darkness, towards the spot where the light had disappeared below the horizon. Her fingers slipped out of his as she moved away from him. A sudden wave of cold washed over him, and he scrambled to his feet.
â€œWait up!â€ He called, but she walked on as though she hadnâ€™t heard him. He jogged after her, slowing when he was a few paces behind her, so that their steps were synchronised. Even through the darkness, he could see her trembling.
â€œLetti?â€ His voice sounded weird, as though it belonged to somebody else; someone far, far away. She glanced over her shoulder, without slowing down. Her features appeared pale and strained. She opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out. After a moment, she settled for a weak smile, to show that she had heard him, and turned away from him once more. Frowning, he ran the last few steps in-between them, and when he was beside her, he spoke again.
â€œWhere are we going?â€ He asked. She shrugged.
â€œDoesnâ€™t matter.â€ She said. â€œI just want to keep moving. It helps toâ€¦take my mind off of things.â€
â€œWell,â€ Nad said, trying to force some humour into his voice, â€œdonâ€™t go so fast! I canâ€™t keep up with you.â€ Through the darkness, he saw Letti smile, and her pace slowed. In between each gust of wind, Nad could hear the sound of Lettiâ€™s breathing, irregular and heavy. His own heart, he realised, was racing.
â€œHey-â€ He started, hoping to find the words that would comfort her, but at the same moment, a second tremor shook the earth. It was larger than the last one, and Nad staggered forwards, fighting to keep his balance. Behind him, he heard Letti cry out in pain as she fell. He twisted around to face her, and reached out to stop her form falling, but too late. Letti threw her arms out before her to shield her face, and a second, broken cry rang out as she hit the ground.
â€œLetti!â€ He called, panicked, seeing the pain that flashed across her features. He reached out a hand to help her up, and she took it, using his weight to pull herself to her feet.
â€œAre you hurt?â€ He asked, his eyes darting across the exposed skin on her arms and face, searching for broken skin. If it had been anyone else, he would not have been concerned, but Letti was fragile. Accidents that meant small cuts and bruises for most, could mean weeks of pain for her, and she hadnâ€™t exactly landed softlyâ€¦
â€œIâ€™m okay.â€ Letti said, gripping his hand more tightly. â€œItâ€™s fine, letâ€™s keep-â€
Another tremor shook the earth, and Nad flung his free arm around Lettiâ€™s waist, to stop her from falling. She grabbed hold of his forearm, digging her fingers into his skin, as though she were holding on for dear life. Her eyes were screwed tightly shut, and her breath was still. Around him, distant sounds were breaking through the night; the sound of things crashing and shattering. From nearby, there came the deafening sound of something being wrenched out of the earth, and out of the corner of his eye, a dark, looming shape was twisting through the darkness, leaning away from him, and moving, as though in slow motion, towards the earth. A moment later, a deafening crash sounded, and the massive body of an uprooted tree came to rest, mere metres away from where they were standing. He saw Lettiâ€™s eyes fly open, and she turned her face towards the scene, loosening her grip on his arm as the trembling finally came to a stop.
â€œOhâ€¦my god.â€ She breathed, her voice shaking. Her eyes were wide, and set on massive trunk of the fallen tree. Nad couldnâ€™t help it; he stared too. It was a sight impossible to wrap his mind around. His eye darted to Letti, as he tried to recall the words that had risen to his lips before, the words that might have comforted her, but they were gone. He swallowed, and closed his mouth, realising that he was gaping, and then he spoke.
â€œHey,â€ he said, quietly. Letti wrenched her eyes away from the fallen tree, and turned to him. He blurted the first thing that rose to his mind.
â€œWhat was it, again, that used to make you feel better about dying?â€ He asked. â€œIâ€¦think I could do with some thoughts like that, right now.â€
For a moment, she merely started at him, uncomprehending. Then, she blinked, and her expression seemed to clear.
â€œOh.â€ She said. â€œI, uh-â€ She gasped as another tremor shook the earth, and Letti tightened her grip on his arm, but it was short-lived. The trembling died out before either of them was thrown off balance, and Letti drew in a deep breath, before continuing.
â€œI used to tell myself aboutâ€¦â€ She hesitated, her eyes screwed shut in concentration, as she tried to recall the thoughts that had once comforted her so. After a momentâ€™s thought, she said, â€œEverything.â€
Letti opened her eyes, and a small smile played across her lips. Already, she was breathing more calmly. â€œI used to tell myself about howâ€¦Iâ€™d become a part of everything. The earthâ€¦and the trees, and the sky; whatever is it that the sky is made ofâ€¦andâ€¦and the ants-â€ she gritted her teeth as another tremor shook the earth, but after a moment, she continued, shouting over the terrible rumbling that filled their ears, seeping from far below the earth. â€œAndâ€¦waterâ€¦and music!â€ She called, and her eyes flew open. â€œBut there wonâ€™t be any of those things anymore!â€ She called, her eyes meeting Nadâ€™s. â€œWill there? Isnâ€™t this it? Itâ€™s all over, now!â€ Tears were streaming down her cheeks, and she was trembling worse than ever. Nadâ€™s heart lurched. All he wanted was to comfort her, to make her happy. He drew in a deep breath, and spoke. The ground was shaking more than ever before, and it was taking all of his effort to keep then from falling, but at the same time, he realised that any one of these words might be his last. He wanted them to count.
â€œNo!â€ He called, struggling to make his voice rise above the grating sounds that were rising from the earth. â€œThereâ€™ll be more, after this!â€ He was struggling every moment now, just to keep himself upright. â€œThings will start over, they have to!â€ He drew in a deep breath. He was exerting himself; constantly shifting has balance, and clinging to Letti desperately at the same time. â€œI promise!â€ He finished. Lettiâ€™s eyes widened, and for an instant, he thought he saw her smile, but then, the ground beneath them exploded, and he was thrown backwards through the air. He heard a crunch, and a shattering pain ran through his body like a wave of electricity, but it seemed detached, as though he were witnessing someone elseâ€™s pain. With tremendous effort, he raised his head, to see that he had landed almost six metres away from where he had been standing. Letti was sprawled out on the earth, just out of armâ€™s reach.
â€œLetti!â€ He cried, his head spinning with panic, but he could not hear his own voice over the deafening sound of the earth shifting, below and around him.
â€œLetti!â€ He called again, but his words were lost to the night. Around him, the earth was exploding, tearing itself apart, rising and crashing down on top of each other like ocean waves. It was like something out of a nightmare. Nad raised himself onto his elbow, inching himself towards Letti, stretching his fingers painstakingly towards her outstretched hand. He couldnâ€™t tell whether or not she was breathing, but he had to find out. He dragged himself a little closer, and his fingertips brushed against hers, but her hand slipped away before he could get any kind of grip. He screamed, a cry of anger and despair, but the wind whipped it away before it reached his ears. Suddenly, he saw her stir, and raise her head, slightly. Her face turned towards his, and for an instant, their eyes met. She saw him reaching for her, and stretched her hand towards his. He grabbed hold of her hand, and for a moment, he was certain that she was smiling. She called something to him, but she might as well have been mouthing the words. From the formation of her lips, she might have been saying â€˜Iâ€™ll miss you.â€™ Or it could have been â€˜I love you.â€™ Now, he would never know. In the same moment, the ground beside them cracked open, and a spray of rocks, some of them larger than his own head, collided with them. Nad tried to throw himself over Letti, to shield her, but it was impossible to co-ordinate himself. He felt her hand slip out of his, and a moment later, her body had vanished. He cried out, ignoring the pain ringing through his head, and raised himself onto his knees, searching for her, but it was too late.
Her body was sprawled on the earth, a few metres away, and there was a huge gash in the side of her head. She was unmoving, as though asleep, but her eyes were wide open.
â€œNo!â€ He screamed, unable to believe that he was seeing. It couldnâ€™t be true, it couldnâ€™t! After all this, he couldnâ€™t bring himself to believe that he had lost her. He dragged himself, crawling on his hands and knees, trying to reach her, but a deafening sound rang out against the walls of skull, sounding almost as though it came from within him, and he felt the strength leave his body. His limbs gave out, and he felt himself crash onto the earth, but there was no more pain. The rumbling still sounded, but it seemed distant. More prominent, was the ringing that came from the centre of his skull. He felt as though he was a bell, and he had just been struck. His vision fading, and the last of his ability to move leaving him, he found himself blinded by the cascade of tears that were running down his cheeks. He was dying, he was really, truly, dying, but all that he could think about was Letti, and the life that he would never have with her. The motion around him stopped, giving way to a strange sensation, as though he were thickly cocooned in some kind of think, soft, material, from head to toe. It was pressing against him tightly, but not suffocating. It blocked out the light, leaving behind a darkness that seemed to press against his eyes, and the sound, too, had stopped. He felt his body relax, and as he expelled the last of his air from his lungs, he realised that he had been wrong. The darkness was not, as he had first thought, silent. Far away, in the distance, and pressed closely against him, and above him, beneath him, and in the very deepest parts of him, the he could hear the wind, rushing through his body like water, and all around him, and just as he had hoped it would, it was singing.