The last second of Cassie Maclay’s life was cold, but filled with wonder. The sky was gorgeous, painted in the hues of the residual sunset that hadn’t heard the news that the sun had already imploded, or vanished, or whatever had happened, and she held her baby brother’s forearm with a sort of anxious delight. It was inevitable, as inevitable as the movements of the stars. What was there to be done? She barely understood how the sun works, much less how she could get it to pop back into existence. Astronomy was beautiful, sure, but utterly incomprehensible. Even then, she looked up at the stars with a sorrowed bemusement. It’d been a rough eleven years, but it had been what it was and nothing more. Humans could so rarely even begin to understand the inevitable, but Cassie had much practice. Her little brother giggled at a nearby firefly just before their blood instantly froze over and their veins split with the new volume, and it was such a miraculous sound. All around the world, if she tried, she could hear the giggling children, and the fighting, and the crying. Maybe it was a natural end for the Earth. At least it would be over in an instant.
A minute before the end of the world, Cassie Maclay had taken her little brother into the garage so they could grab the folding chairs that their parents used to tailgate sometimes. Her brother was only four, so he drowned in the chair when he was done setting it up, bunching his legs up to sit cross-legged while his ham-hands closed around the apple juice she’d snuck from the fridge. If the world would have kept going, she would have gotten yelled out when they found out about it. When she was younger, and her range was still on Earth, Cassie had been overwhelmed by the amount of hunger that people expressed, every moment of every day, and she’d tried to take food from her own fridge to find them and feed them, so she wouldn’t hear them anymore. Her parents hadn’t believed her-- they never believed her. She propped her own chair next to her brothers and sat down to look at the stars.
Two minutes before the end of the world, Cassie Maclay snuck into her little brother’s room, where he’d already been put to sleep even though it was only seven. His room was decorated with all the old vestiges of hers-- all the old stuffed animals and toy trucks her mother had decided she was too old for when her brother was born. Just because Cassie had heard the conversation her mother had had with her father a week earlier didn’t mean she wasn’t sad when her toys were all rounded up in a trash bag for the new baby. She woke her brother up quietly, and told him she had something to show him but they had to be quiet. They crept downstairs together, walking near the walls and furniture on their way to the garage. Despite the best efforts of their parents, Cassie’d always been close to her little brother, who loved the way she could catch anything he threw into the air.
Three minutes before the end of the world, Cassie Maclay quickly texted her old friends. They hadn’t really been her friends as much as the children of her mother’s friends. Cassie’s power, congenital and aggressive, was to have an inherent knowledge of everything that would happen or was happening, give or take about ten minutes into the future. She hadn’t been able to keep up a conversation since she was aware of what everyone would say a few minutes in advance and she was always so horribly distracted by the thoughts swirling around the world and the distant echoes of a million asteroids crashing into one another and into more and more distant planets. Cassie texted them anyway, just to tell them that she’d heard it was supposed to be a beautiful sunset today.
Four and five minutes before the end of the world, Cassie Maclay had frantically been searching “What happens when the sun dies” on her mother’s iPad, borrowed from the living room with no intention of returning it. Leading experts estimated that, in the event the sun miraculously disappeared or turned off somehow, it would take a week for the Earth to cool off to zero degrees fahrenheit. That estimate, according to Cassie’s visions swarming her head, was incorrect. She kept checking anyway, even though she knew nothing would change. Nothing ever changed from the way she saw it in her head, even if what she saw made no scientific sense. The internet told her nothing useful, like she knew it wouldn’t. She knew that, whether she liked it or not, whether it was scientifically proven or not, in five and then four minutes, Earth would finally feel the effects of the sun going out all at once. It wouldn’t be a painful death, although their frozen corpses with their burst veins and crystal eyes would be gross to behold. Cassie related it to how bees weren’t supposed to fly according to physics, and yet they did anyway. Sometimes the inexplicable happened, even to physics.
Six minutes before the end of the world, Cassie Maclay did a short version of the breathing exercises that a well-meaning school psychologist had taught her in the fourth grade, believing her explanation of being able to hear and see everything that was presentantly happening or that would soon happen in the universe to be a delusion of grandeur brought on by anxiety. Cassie thought about the psychologist fondly-- the breathing exercises really did help. It was so hard, sometimes, to only concentrate on the present she was experiencing and not hear the snores of the elderly in Thailand and the squeaking of a newborn seal in Antarctica and the electric storms of the Northern pole of Saturn. The worked this time, too, helping her gather her presence into what she was actively experiencing, and once she’d done that, helping her see ahead to the next six minutes. The world was ending whether she liked it or not, so where would she like to be? She decided on her backyard, with her brother. It would be nice to die instantly with somebody who loved her, Cassie thought.
Seven minutes before the end of the world, Cassie Maclay’s mother yelled at her for audibly crying. Cassie didn’t bother to try and explain-- nobody ever believed her anyway. She’d spent the next couple trying to figure out exactly when the end would be; she’d seen the sun turn off a minute ago in real time, but her foresight was a little harder to pinpoint. There was still so much she wanted to do, but the future was inevitable, and for the first time in Cassie’s life, she couldn’t see anything beyond the next seven minutes, no matter how hard she tried.
Eight minutes before the end of the world, Cassie Maclay watched in real-time and horror as the sun disappeared from the solar system, leaving nothing behind but the blank emptiness of space. It vanished at the precise same instant that Cassie’s little brother twitched his foot in his sleep, and her old school psychologist cracked her knuckles from the last time and the girl who’d invited her to her third grade birthday sleepover out of obligation put on a lipstick that was aggressively pink and an asteroid passed far too close to Rasalhague in the Ophiuchus constellation for its own good and for a second, like every second of Cassie Maclay’s life, she was so aware of time and space and how how everyone on the planet was connected in ways they never imagined or understood. She lay back on her bed, in her town, in her state, in her country, and let our star’s legacy die like the Earth soon would, and tried, for a second, to ignore the inevitable and be as ignorant to the future as everyone in her town and state and country and you are doing right now.
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Hi Tori, I enjoyed this story and the take on the prompt which was such a challenge for me. The story is quiet with subtle tension and good flow. I like the second person POV at the end. Really good story!