At the end of everything, the stars burn themselves to smoke and whimpers, lying in reality’s abandoned ashtray – the stubs of something no one will ever use again. The universe gathers her shawl and fixes her hair, vain to the last, even though no one is there to admire her. She is wizened and wrinkled, more than ready to collapse into a point, sink down into the protective embrace of wherever it is universes come from.
At the end of everything, the galaxies have shattered on the floor, scattered as pieces of broken glass. Lonely atoms shiver and shake, alone, rattling in the empty space between dead planets where water used to flow and creatures once upon a time squirmed. Moons drift; uncertain without the anchoring stability they had grown used to. Gas giants putter about aimlessly, eying the crushing blackness with resignation. Asteroids, the lucky bastards, soar and tumble at top speed, determined to wring what they can from the end of everything.
Life and Death crowd around the last star, watching each other in the final flickers of a little dwarf star named Abigail. Life is a cloud of possibilities that shift and slide, glimpses of smiles and hints of laughter that the bleak emptiness sucks up all too quickly. Death is a quiet inevitability, ineffable. Once upon a time, she was the space between galaxies, the breath between sleep and wakefulness.
Now, she is everything.
Or almost everything.
Because Life still has a tether, in the little dying dwarf star named Abigail. Life is allowed to indulge in the possibilities, where maybe, this is not the finale. Maybe, a new star pulls itself together before Abigail fades, and a planet holds a spark of something that could live, flourish. The probabilities, the fragile dreams and small chances, play out across Life’s skin.
Death despondently stares at those cracked and shattered hopes.
“It will not happen,” she murmurs. In the silence at the end of everything, her voice echoes from one corpse of a planet to the next, hanging gratefully onto every solid surface it can find.
Life is unsurprised by Death’s grim words, and a flicker of a smile stretches out across his face. “No one is suppose to want to die,” he replies.
“Some did,” Death mutters, reaching out fingers as thin as breath to the last memories of warmth Abigail is struggling to provide. “Some welcomed the knife, the cord.” She pauses. “The dirt, the pillow, the switching off of the breathing machine.” A spark of something almost like shock ripples through her, near as bright as Abigail. “Goodness me, there were so many ways to die.”
“So many ways to live, too,” Life whispers, and his hands cup Abigail. Her light brightens, strengthens, groping for his touch. Death sees what he is doing – the way he pours a little of himself into the shivering star, tries to keep her safe from the darkness around her.
“I think that is cheating,” she mutters. It does not matter. Life is at his end. Besides Abigail, the universe is a void, waiting for Death set up the alarm, lock up the door and slip away. Life is barely hanging on, and maybe it is fair if she lets him steal a few moments. She has taken enough from him over the millennia.
“Do you remember that one planet?” Life begins, and it is hard to narrow down which planet he means. He barrels ahead before Death can speak, as if by filling the space around him with his words, he can postpone the end for a while longer. “The one filled with the hyper intelligent shades of blue sunlight. The way they shimmered…and how their art never lasted longer than a heartbeat. The way they sang, with the vibrations against that ammonia waterfall with their sun setting to the south.” There is a wistfulness to his face, abjection in the creases of his expression. “I almost cried when you took them.”
“Their star exploded,” Death growls, wrapping her arms tight around herself as she recalls the shining forms of the brightest creatures in the universe. “They were of the sunlight; they could not live without it.”
Life is quiet, and then he says, “And that other one…where the beings upon it could lift rocks with their minds alone, who could shape minerals and carve gems with a thought. They could redirect rivers with a whisper; mold the clouds with their breaths. Oh…do you remember their buildings? Their temples, their monuments? And the way that they manipulated the heavens, so that the starry sky was as gorgeous as the earth and always clear. Most glorious things anyone had ever created, that wonderful, wonderful planet.”
She remembers. A lost star, homeless, without planets to ground it or comets to love, slammed into it, boiled everything upon that little rock alive, sent the whirling shards out to tumble into space.
Life is flickering with the memories of species long gone and dead – crystals that spoke, gooey rock-like beings that moved a centimeter once in a thousand years, clouds of brilliant oxygen that laughed instead of speaking, spiders that spun webs between moons. A certain type of ennui has draped itself about him, and he is holding it close to fend off his own impending doom.
“Humans,” Death says. “I remember them.”
“Always the odd ones out in the universe,” Life agrees, “With their water and all.” He pauses, and she can see his throat work as he tries to swallow away the pain. “I liked Leonardo da Vinci. When the Mona Lisa burned, well…” he tries to shrug, but they are not really suited for such movements, so it merely looks strange. “And just…they were alive for such a heartbeat of time, and most of their development came right before the end. Of their planet, I mean, since the humans did not really give up.”
“When I came for them,” Death remembers, her voice quiet, and it seems like even the dead bodies of the planets crowd each other to hear what she has to say, “I found some escaping into the skies. Humans are stubborn. Like cockroaches. Impossible to truly squish.” A secret joke brings a slow curve of a smile to her face. “Cockroaches were one of the last things to die,” she announces in the hopes that it will cheer Life.
His grin is weary, and Abigail is gasping. The end is not long now. “I know they were one of the last,” he replies, stroking Abigail, trying to make her last moments easier. “They were always tough.” His smile slips a bit when his gaze returns to the bleak emptiness, filled with nothing, which is starting to push in on them. “Death?”
“I don’t know where you’ll go,” she whispers, exhausted suddenly, wishing for this to be over and yet not, because she will never see Life again. “I don’t know what comes after things pass from you to me. I take them to a door, and I hand them the key. They go through, and I return to my duties.”
Death’s door is not black, or white. It is not silver or gray or hyper intelligent blue. Death’s door is the light lavender that warns of impending sunset, tinged with the dark indigo that streaks the skies just before dawn. She often wonders what lies behind it, but it has never been her time to find out. Of course Life will know before her – he has always had to be first in everything.
Life strokes Abigail, flickers of flames caressing his fingers. He does not look at Death. “I think I’m ready.”
“No, because this little one is still here. But thinking about it…” his words are stung out now, and she knows he wants her to fill in the blanks. She would honestly rather hear what he has to say, so she stares at him pointedly until he sighs. “A hundred billion years is a long time to be around.”
“She is almost gone,” Death says, and winces.
“I know,” Life murmurs, and his years are clear in his voice.
Abigail is struggling, vainly, but it is a losing battle. She will always have lost this one, in any number of the versions of this universe that exist in the multiverse, because this ending is inevitable. The moment is ineffable in its certainty, in its uneventualness.
The ending of everything could be chaos. The end of everything could be madness. The end of everything could be filled with screams and tears and maniacal laughter.
Instead, the end of everything is the whisper of wet fingers scraping against a burning wick, and as silent as curling smoke on a winter’s evening.
Abigail loses the fight, and Death takes her to the lavender door, handing her the key with no ceremony before heading back to Life.
He sits where Abigail died, waiting. Serenity – whether forced or natural – sits heavy on his brow, and he tries for contentedness when he smirks up at Death. “We had a good run, yeah?” he asks, and she is not imagining the hesitancy in his voice, the way the words – some of the last ones the universe will ever hear – tremble.
She shakes her head, and kneels next to him. “You’re special,” she confides, “And there is something I want to do.” She reaches out to run her finger along the side of his face, as gentle as only Death knows how to be. Life turns into the touch, seeking her warmth when the universe has none to offer them.
She has waited for this moment for a hundred billion years, since she burst into being and saw Life laughing at the center of it all, creation crowding around him like an attention starved puppy. She has watched Life as they went about their duties – with the shaping and the breaking, with the laughter and the tears. They are the same thing in the end, and one cannot exist without the other, so in a way, this is her death too.
Life tastes like dying stars, sparking across her lips.
The door hangs open behind him, waiting for her.
And that is how everything ended:
With a kiss.