“You know, when this whole thing started, and I mean way back, at the very beginning, when most of it was just rumors and small little accidents blown out of proportion, I Googled the actual definition of an apocalypse,” Penny tucked her hair behind her ear, her dark roots now as long as the bleached section, “And it’s actually ‘an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale.’”
Asha didn’t turn to her, staring up at the hazy orange sky, straining to see the moon through the smoke, “Okay, and?”
“I’m just saying that everyone is talking like the world has ended, but it hasn’t actually, just the world as we know it has.” said Penny, tugging on the sleeves of her jean jacket.
“But aren’t those the same thing to us?” The ground crunched as Asha rolled over to face her, pillowing her chin in her hand.
“No,” biting the inside of her lip, Penny shook her head once, so her hair fell back out from behind her ear to brush her cheeks with its stiff, dirty tips, “If the entire world had ended, everything would be gone. Obviously,” she gestured out around her, to the ravaged landscape of fires and rocks below the cliff they sat on, “That hasn’t happened, because we’re still here. I think since just our version of the world has ended, Earth is just gearing up to reset itself and then create a bunch more humans.” Rolling onto her back again, Asha hummed a tune. Penny glanced at her with a frown, “Are you even listening to me?”
Asha nodded, “Yeah. The song’s relevant.” She half-closed her eyes to sing. “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”
“I’ve never heard that before,” said Penny, examining her nails.
Asha smiled half a smile, “Yeah, it’s a good song. Okay, anyways, sorry. You think Earth is going to reset itself and raise a bunch more humans?”
Penny shrugged, “Maybe, I don’t know. But, I have an idea just in case.”
Brows raising, Asha sat up and brushed the dirt from her front. “Okay, what is it?”
As she spoke, Penny’s spine straightened and her eyes brightened, hands fluttering through the air, “So you know how in the bible there was Adam and Eve, and they were supposed to be the first humans? Well, we should write our own version of the story, like our own bible, for the future humans to base their religion off of.” She trailed off, eyes losing their luster and turning down to her lap, “If you want to.”
Asha bit her tongue between grinning teeth, “Oh my gosh, yes please. That’s genius.”
Beaming, Penny pulled an old notebook from the ratty bag beside her and grabbed the pen from her pocket. “Alright, so. This pen is already half dead, and this notebook is already mostly filled with my old grocery lists, so we have to limit what we write.” As she flipped over the notebook so that the back became the front, she clicked open the pen and poised the end over the paper. The page reflected the orange of the fiery sky. “Where should we start?”
Asha leaned over and pressed her lips to Penny’s, eliciting a surprised smile. Penny’s fingers loosened on the pen and notebook as they were pulled away from her, and her hands moved to ghost around Asha’s waist. “I love you,” Asha said, pulling away with a smirk and grabbing the notebook and pen, “but my handwriting is infinitely better than yours.”
Cheeks red, Penny pretended to pout. Her eyes darted down to her lap, “I love you too.” It was almost too quiet to hear, but it pulled Asha’s lips up into a smile.
“Okay,” Asha tapped the end of the pen against the paper, “Where should we start?”
“We should tell the story of how the world ended and started over again.”
“How can we write that if it hasn’t actually reset though?”
Penny shrugged, “They’ll be reading this far in the future. They’ll never know if we fib a little.”
“Right! This is gonna be great,” Asha’s grin had the sharp edges of mischief and snapped cinnamon sticks, “We can lie as much as we want.” Tilting the notebook on her knees so Penny could see the page, she began to write, the pen’s ink stuttering at first and then smoothing out.
In the end humanity destroyed the land and the skies.
And the end was burning and horrible, and the fire was all consuming; and Death moved like sea mists over the land.
Then Death grew weary and retreated, leaving only two girls and the lingering scent of destruction.
And Death watched them from afar, roiling as an orange ocean of fire as they settled on a cliff, and realized they were in love.
And Death saw with wide obsidian eyes the love between them and began to quake in fear, so with one final shake of the cracked, burning earth, Death tumbled away.
“Wait,” Penny clutched Asha’s shoulder with one hand and pointed over the horizon with the other, “Look.” The land beneath their cliff was shaking, and the noxious orange fog that covered the ground in a thick blanket was dispersing into the air, pulling away to leave behind the broken earth and a few still-smoldering piles of ash where fires had been.
Lips parted, Asha turned her face up to the sky, which was blue like sea glass and a child’s dreams, its clear surface only marred by a few slender wisps of cloud. “What happened?” she breathed.
Penny ignored the sky, instead staring with narrowed eyes towards the quickly-receding orange fog. “I think,” she paused, her eyes narrowing further as she leaned forward, calloused palms pressing into the rocky ground, “I don’t know.”
“Wait,” Asha squinted at the horizon, then back down at the notebook and pen in her hand, “Let me try something.”
Then the girls, noticing Death’s absence, willed the wilderness into existence, and flowers and trees and animals sprouted up across the world below them.
As Penny and Asha watched, the final tendrils of smoke dissolved, and grass grew across the ground in a thick green carpet, the deep cracks in the earth filling with glittering water. Trees grew slim and looming above it all, and deer with white speckled backs grazed in the clearings between them, and rabbits hopped between small red-berried bushes.
The cliff, however, remained untouched, the ground still dry and sharp, air still rough like sandpaper on wood. “Oh my god,” Penny’s voice was raw with shock and awe, “Look at it all. Did we do this? Is this what it was like before we got to our world?”
Asha frowned down at her hands, “What happened here though? Why don’t we have grass or anything?”
Eyes still fixed on the land below, Penny shrugged, “Look, Asha. It’s so pretty.”
Asha stood and brushed off her hands as she walked along the edge of the cliff, circling around once before turning back to Penny. The craggy hillside they had climbed up had fallen away, leaving them stranded on their stone island above the woods. “I know. I want to get down there to enjoy it, but we’re stuck up here.”
“No, we don’t have to go. We can just look.”
Sighing, Asha took off her jacket, “Come on, there’s water down there. We can try to land in it. It’ll be fine.”
“No!” Penny shook her head and stood too, reaching out to grip Asha’s arm, “You’ll get hurt.”
“It’ll be fine!” Tugging herself from Penny’s grip, Asha pecked her on the cheek and shoved her crumpled jacket against her chest, “Love you, and see you in paradise.” She stood with her back to the edge of the cliff, and her loose, dirt-stained tank top fluttered in the breeze as she tipped over backwards, falling fast and straight.
Eyes wide with fear and swirling despair, Penny dropped the jacket and rushed to peer over the edge. Asha’s body was gone, the pool of water below clear and sparkling. She felt a sob choke her throat.
She turned her back to the cliff, preparing to let herself drop too, but she spotted the notebook and pen lying abandoned on the ground. She fell forward on her knees beside them, chest full of ache and cheeks soaked with saltwater, and picked up the pen to scribble one last line on the paper. Her handwriting didn’t match the rest of it, sloppy, the paper warped and stained with her quick-falling tears.
Then, as the girls got greedy and wanted a part of what they had created for others, Death reached back into the world and grabbed one in each hand, because once Death has been somewhere, Death never really leaves.
A jagged line of fading ink dragged from the end of the last word, the pen lay among the pebbles, and Penny lay on the ground at an awkward angle, knees bent beneath her thighs, heart still.