As a massive asteroid is about to collide with Earth, Malcom drives out into the countryside to live out the last moments of his life in peace. There, he recalls the events leading up to this final day and meets a stranger. *Contains adult themes*
The spot was as good as any, and Malcom realized he had wasted precious, precious time driving down the empty stretch of highway in order to find it. He pulled his car onto the gravel shoulder. The tires crunched over the rocks, and a dusty cloud rose into the blue, endless sky.
It was same sky where Beatrice, a massive asteroid, slowly grew in size as she neared Earth. Her ugly head tumbled over itself in a slow spiral. For the past few months, her ragged features slowly grew clearer and clearer during sunny days. When clouds covered the sky, one still felt her oppressive presence looming overhead. Even the dark of night could not conceal her, for the sun reflected brightly off of her surface, and she glowed, casting her own shadows alongside the pale light of the moon.
Now, she was almost here.
As Malcom’s car came to a halt, he looked up through his windshield to find her. She looked watered down, as though she was swimming through serene, blue water instead of a cloudless sky. She looked silent, peaceful even, during the final hour of her approach.
Malcom stepped out of his car. It was a hot and breezy summer day. The wind cooled his skin as it whipped at both his clothes and the grassy fields that surrounded him. He had parked his car in the middle of nowhere, twenty-some miles north of the city, off of the interstate, and down a country highway. It was exactly where he wanted to be when Beatrice hit. Though the super-heated shockwave would kill him instantly no matter where he was, he figured with nothing around to slow it down, his death would go much quicker. Even before that happened, Malcom wanted to listen to the wind in the grass and observe a last glimpse of the planet in peaceful, natural silence.
He had said his goodbyes weeks before while the cellphone towers still worked. Everyone he spoke to told him the same things. They couldn’t believe this was happening; they hoped to see him on the other side if it did, in fact, exist.
Malcom’s parents said they were going to be lying in bed when it happened. Malcom’s sister said she was going to overdose the night before Beatrice was to hit and to not tell Mom or Dad.
As Malcom leaned on the hood of his car, he realized his sister was already dead. Though his own imminent death overshadowed any grief that welled up inside him. He would soon follow is sister, as would everything else.
Malcom looked to the sky, but did not know why he kept glancing up at Beatrice. Perhaps he felt she would suddenly vanish, or maybe she would change her course and skirt by Earth’s atmosphere, taking with it only a portion of the blue air. But no, the scientists had recalculated their measurements over and over again; she would hit. So, now, when Malcom looked up into the sky, it was only to see her rotate, observe the changes in her features, watch her grow larger.
He breathed in the fresh air through his nose and wished for life to go on. This, of course, did little, but the fact that he could wish for something, that the act of wishing was still available to him, made him feel better. He thought of all he might have done with his life. Perhaps he would have settled down with a boy, a soulmate, married him, and adopted some children. He wondered how he would have died. Maybe from a heart attack like his grandfather or of cancer like many other of his relatives.
However, Malcom remembered that he would die from her, from Beatrice. She was not an interruption of normal life. She was not a mistake. She was The End. The trajectory of Earth’s life, straight from the beginning, ended in her. She would tear Earth in two.
She was an act of God, some had said, though Malcom preferred to think of her as something that was merely meant to be.
When astronomers first spotted her two decades prior, she was millions of miles away and labeled “Potentially Dangerous.” In elementary school, Malcom remembered seeing the photos of her taken with enormous space telescopes. She was simply a small bright dot swimming in the darkness around her. The photo was blurry and unimpressive. It was hard for anyone to take her immense size seriously. They tracked her movement over the years, took photos that became clearer and clearer the closer she approached.
Beatrice rounded Jupiter, who tugged her in the direction of Earth.
The alarms went off. Years of funding spilled into emergency projects dedicated to invent technology that would save the world. Private companies and leading experts created bombs, lasers, and giant grappling machines meant to lasso the rock like a calf’s neck and pull her away.
All these were promising. Yet, gravity made getting these objects into space a challenge. As though Earth herself was holding them back, grounding them, and preventing her own salvation. Maybe, some thought, she was ready to go.
About a month before Beatrice arrived, a company in India successfully launched an enormous rocket into space carrying with it a rocket thruster the size of a small town. Meant to latch onto her rocky surface and steer her away, the thruster travelled through space and toward its target. For a moment, it seemed Beatrice’s arrival could be avoided. A spring of hope spurred the world, and its eyes turned to the sky in hope.
The communications device failed, and the rocket, unable to steer, propelled itself into black space. Beatrice moved closer.
The world gave up then. Scientists and engineers left their posts in order to spend their last days with their families. Technology companies hastily created programs to run their technology autonomously, but these failed in a few weeks’ time. The world quieted and returned to its humble beginnings, that of life forms crawling around a rocky surface that floated through an endless universe.
“Shame, really, that it had to happen now,” Malcom said to his friend a week before Beatrice’s arrival. “If it would have happened a hundred years from now, maybe we could have created something that could actually stop it.”
Malcom’s friend, Selena, replied.
“Maybe a huge bomb to blow up the whole thing.”
“Some Star Wars grade shit,” Malcom agreed.
They sat in silence then. There were a lot of silences now that they had such little time left. They wished to fill the quiet with meaning, but could not find the right words. It was tiresome to produce the final words that would fall from one’s lips. It was easier to say nothing.
“Oh, well,” Selena said resolutely. “The end of the world was bound to happen someday. I suppose I feel honored to witness it.”
Malcom did not know what to say, so he sat in silence.
That night, the power went out for good. They had been warned this would happen, so it came to them with little shock when the power grid went down with a sudden silence.
Malcom and Selena lay on Selena’s bed in the dark. They listened to screams and cries erupt from outside her apartment on the city streets. They exploded from the mouths of the ones who couldn’t accept their fate. The ones who thought that their voices could scare away what was coming, but what they actually did was simply make noise.
“Do you want to have sex?” Selena asked a few minutes later.
“I’ve never done it with a girl,” Malcom said.
They fucked in the dark, quietly and tentatively. The noise from outside slowly grew softer as night enveloped the world. With no glow of streetlights to illuminate the city, Beatrice and the moon spilled their cool brightness over everything.
“Come in me,” Selena said, and Malcom did without worry. They enjoyed for the last time the most basic of human pleasures.
After, they dressed and embraced on Selena’s bed. They thanked the other for their friendship.
“Does this change anything between us?” Selena asked.
Malcom thought for a moment, then said, “We don’t really have to worry about that.”
Silent tears fell from Selena’s eyes. “Yeah,” she said. “I guess not.”
Early the next morning, as the light of the last day grew stronger, Selena shot herself in the bathroom while Malcom sat in the next room, like he promised her he would. He waited for a moment, then walked to the closed bathroom door and pressed his ear against it. Malcom listened through the thick silence for signs of life. When he was sure he had heard none, he left her apartment and walked through the tattered streets back to his car. He drove into the country side.
The day had turned dim. Though she was still hundreds of thousands of miles away, Beatrice took up much of the sky, blotting out some of the sunlight. Malcom felt ill with worry as he stared at his feet and absentmindedly rolled a rock beneath his shoe. What would dying feel like? He wondered. He hoped it was like going to sleep, slipping into unconsciousness without knowing. Malcom looked up into the fields. There was nothing but flowing green grass and the invisible wind. It was certainly a peaceful place to die, he thought.
From behind, Malcom heard a vehicle approaching. The buzzing of the tires sounded misplaced in the otherwise silent air. Malcom turned to look. Coming up behind him was a car. It rolled over a small hill and came into view. The car slowed down as it drew nearer to Malcom. A man sat in the driver’s seat. He looked about Malcom’s age. The man’s face was grave but harmless. The car pulled off the road and rolled onto the gravel shoulder before stopping and shutting off. The world became silent again.
The driver’s side door opened, and out stepped the new arrival. “I don’t mean to bother you,” the man said. “I know we don’t have much time left.” A thin, dark stubble spread over his jaw. His brown hair was pushed back and tucked behind his ears.
“It’s okay,” Malcom said. He walked to the side of his car and leaned against the rear passenger door, facing the man. “What’s your name?”
“Steven,” the man said. Steven walked to the hood of his own car and leaned against it. The wind blew his hair onto his face. A strand fell between his lips. He tucked it back behind his ear.
“What brings you out here?” Malcom asked.
Steven was silent. He looked around at the scenery. “Don’t know,” Steven said. “I suppose I just thought it nice to be out here when it happened. It’s kind of crazy back in the city, and I wanted the quiet.”
“Yeah,” Malcom said. “Me too.” He walked to the back of his car and sat on the trunk. The two sat in silence then. Malcom looked up at Beatrice. She grew larger still.
“Pretty strange, huh?” Steven said.
“I would say terrifying.”
Steven looked up, too. “Just a big rock.”
Malcom could now see the craters and cracks on Beatrice’s surface. He looked down to the ground again, afraid. Without warning, his lip began to tremble. It confused him, the sudden sadness. The clear image what was about to happen to Earth had finally been realized in his mind, and Malcom drew in a sharp breath.
Steven noticed. “Do you want to talk?”
Malcom chuckled grimly, the ball in his throat forming a tight, painful knot. “It doesn’t matter.”
“We don’t have to talk,” Steven said.
Malcom realized Steven would be the last person he would ever see. Someone he knew nothing about. “Why did you stop here?” Malcom asked.
Steven answered quickly, for there was little time to think. “Same reason I said before. To be out here where it’s quiet.”
“No, I mean. Why here with me?”
Steven stared at Malcom and allowed a silence to stretch out as long as he dared, like deep a secret had been revealed. On Steven’s face was a look of pain, it twisted his eye brows, furrowed them. He spoke.
“I don’t know,” Steven said. “I’ve been alone for a while now, so I figured I would die alone too. But then I drove out here and saw your car and…I don’t know, I just felt the need to stop. To be with someone in the end.”
It became darker. A low rumble began to shake the Earth. Malcom could feel it in his chest, alongside his thumping heart. Panic surged up his throat.
“It’s coming,” Malcom said quickly. He stood back on the ground, but where to go? Where to escape? The answer loomed overhead, over everything that ever was: you can’t.
Steven looked up at Beatrice. She was so very close now. Her rocky features spread to almost the horizon line. She glowed blue, casted her color over everything. A sudden and violent wind had picked up.
Steven looked over at Malcom. What could Steven say in his last moments? What could he do to make them both feel better? There wasn’t much time, so all he said was, “Here.”
Malcom looked at Steven. “Come here,” Steven said. He placed the palm of his hand next to him on the hood of his car.
Like a child, Malcom followed the direction and sat down. He felt Steven’s arm encircle his shoulders, but he had no time to pull away or feel anything except relief at the sensation of another person’s touch.
Malcom looked up for a final time. Oh, God, he thought. His head fell into Steven’s neck, the neck of a stranger, and yet, Steven somehow embodied everyone: his mother, his father, all his friends, a future partner. He was a human wrapped in skin and tissue. Warm and alive. It felt good to feel life in the end.
Steven pulled Malcom closer, holding him like he wished he could have held a husband, a child, his parents if they hadn’t kicked him out that one summer day years ago. This stranger in his arms felt better than anything before or anything that could have ever come. He allowed that sensation to last for a short eternity.
Then the world grew bright, and Beatrice roared.