The Last Flakes

Reality slowly flaked away. Tiny motes rose from everything, into the air, where they slowly drifted away until there was nothing left. Dante stared idly at his hand as small particles, like dust, rose from his skin. It didn't hurt. It didn't feel like anything at all. It simply existed, barely registrable.

The degenerating matter of existence gave the sky a dingy, dreamlike hue. The sun, wavering under the same decay, left the world cast in sepia tones. Everyone who bothered to be outside wandered around like they were in a dream too. Some stared up at the sun, its light weakened by the dust of creation and its own slow death. Others stared at the ground, shuffling slowly along, reality brushing softly against their faces before continuing on in its path into the sky.

Only a few seemed unfettered by the creeping doom. There were the deniers, the ones who believed that everything was going to be OK. The slow disintegration of the universe was just some sort of mirage, some sort of mistake that had been made by scientists, and it would stop any time now. They tried to continue on their business like normal, treating every day as if it was the same as the one before.

Imagine the telemarketer calling up and offering new long distance, or the clerk waiting for purchases that wouldn't come, or the programmer arranging bits that would soon all become 0. Dante smiled at the thought of it. Their obstinacy was almost dignified. They had so few to play their game with, yet they pushed on. He admired them, but he did not envy them. Ignorance is the worst kind of bliss, especially when it is self inflicted.

Then there were the believers. The faithful fools who thought this was all some preparation for the great beyond. A few of them were Christian, a few Jewish, a few Muslim, and a few of all other creeds and codes. All believed they were to be spared, or to be taken to paradise, or to be otherwise involved in some grand scheme of their god or gods.

Dante watched one walk down the street just then. She was a pretty young woman, no more than twenty or twenty-one. In a better time, her whole life would be ahead of her. Now small motes of her essence gently rose away from her and flickered away in the dingy sunlight. Her head was held high and she smiled wide as she took long strides.

Dante tapped on the window as she walked by. The noise seemed to startle her and she stopped, turning to him. He grinned at her and waved. She waved back and he pointed to his hand, where small bits of skin were detaching themselves and floating up into the air. He followed them with his eyes and glanced back to see her watching with morbid interest as well.

When she caught him looking at her again, she blushed. He grinned wider and mouthed, “Goodbye,” to her. Her eyes went wide and her skin livid and she turned and hurried off, head down and steps short but rapid.

He neither admired nor envied the faithful. They were going to be undone just like everyone else, and they knew it too, but they would find the same nothingness beyond.

Finally, there were those who had simply let go. The looters, the rapists, the murderers. When the news had gone out that everything was ending, people worried that the world would just fall into a chaotic orgy of violence as everyone let go of all inhibitions.

That hadn't happened, really. Credit to humanity, once they learned they were doomed, most people accepted that adding to the entropy would do nothing. Like throwing a match into a four alarm blaze.

But a few people, a few glorious individuals, had simply snapped. They'd gone out and smashed windows and stolen crumbling objects they hoped would bring them some small degree of happiness in the final days. Though most people were simply giving them away. A few small businesses, headed up by deniers, tried to stay operational. They didn't hold out long; in these final days, money was worth less than nothing.

No one was going to stop them. The police gave up. Why defend what would simply be gone in a few days or weeks? No patrol cars rolled down the streets. Call 911 and the phone simply rang and rang and rang.

There were reports of some sick souls who used the end of everything as a justification to go out and satisfy their darkest carnal needs. Credit to humanity again; people rose up in anger and went out to put these perverts and sickos down. A man was found holding down a teenage girl in the park; he was torn to shreds. His parts are still there, flaking away, a warning to anyone who would take advantage of these dark times.

Now the ones who truly and justly went insane... They were the glorious ones. Dante envied them, though he didn't admire them. They went out into the streets and tore their clothes off, or strode madly down the streets screaming vile words that weren't, or destroyed precious monuments and art as if it were some sacrifice that could appease corrupt physics.

They had simply let go. They had embraced the craziness of this fate. All creation was coming unglued and they had come unglued along with it. It was almost beautiful, in a way.

Dante wished he'd been one of them. But no, he had not snapped. Not that he could tell, at least. He'd simply fallen into the same malaise most everyone else had. Why do or hope for anything when it didn't matter?

He leaned back in his chair and stared up at the collection of flaked off particles trapped by his ceiling. How long would it take before the ceiling burst apart and they could all escape?

They said living things would last the longest. Cells were replaced even as they flickered away. We would watch the rocks and our buildings and the mountains slowly crumble away like a sandcastle in heavy wind. We probably wouldn't get to see the world itself vanish. Gravity would be too weak to hold in the atmosphere, if the atmosphere itself hadn't simply disintegrated by them. We'd all slowly suffocate or freeze to death.

Dante supposed that was for the better. He didn't want to see the world disappear. Better to be dead before the very end.

His phone rang. It was his land line, of course, because cell phones no longer worked. All the evaporating particles created too much interference in the air for the signals to get through. He lifted the receiver and held it to his ear. “Hello?”

“Dante,” his sister Nili said. “Why haven't you come to see me?” Her voice came through in static. The telephone lines were slowly decaying too.

He sighed. “Why should I?” he asked.

“Dante...” she said sadly, through a crackle. He was glad her voice was distorted by the interference.

“It won't mean anything,” he said. “We can see each other and nothing will change.”

“We'll spend time together,” she said. “Nothing has to change. It doesn't have to mean anything except for what it means to the two of us.”

He looked out the window. The corpse of a deer was laying beside the street, undisturbed. It had been there nearly a month, now, almost as long as the end of the world had started. It was not decaying, of course. All the bacteria that would have devoured it had already turned to dust. The flies and maggots too; they had taken a little longer to disintegrate, but they were too small to survive like people were.

Yet half the corpse had already crumbled into nothingness as if had never been there. Like someone had erased it off a drawing board.

“You're not doing anything anyway, are you?” she asked after a long pause.

“No,” he said. “I'm not.”

“Then come over, please.”

He sighed again,” Ok,” and hung up the phone. He trudged up the stairs and opened the door to his bedroom. A few pieces of his clothes had not yet disappeared; a pair of dress pants, an ugly t-shirt, mismatched socks, hiking boots. He pulled them on and went outside.

It was a short walk to his sister's apartment. He kept his head down and stuffed his hands in his pockets as he walked. Every so often he would pass someone else who, for whatever reason, had bothered to come outside. He looked at each one of them. Few looked back. Those who did, who met his eyes, mirrored his own. Empty stares, not really seeing the other, only noticing pointlessness.

When he reached her apartment, she was already outside waiting for him. She wore a lacy, pink dress. It looked more appropriate for a doll than a woman. She had blonde hair and blue eyes, which were ringed in red. “What's with the outfit?” he asked as a joke.

Her brows bunched together and her bottom lip quivered. “The same as yours, I image,” she said.

He simply nodded his head. She walked down the stairs and laid a hand on his arm. The touch tickled. Little bits of himself crumbled from between her fingers and floated like unbound snowflakes into the sky. She slid it down his arm until it reached his pocket.

He let her take his hand out and clasp it in her own. In the spot where their flesh touched, he did not feel any particles escaping. It was probably a wishful figment of his imagination, he decided.

Together, hand in hand, they walked to the park without saying anything. A long time ago, the park would have been a bustle of noise and activity. Children playing, birds signing, frogs croaking. There was none of that now. Children stayed with their parents all the time now. Some didn't try to explain what was happening, even if the child asked questions. Some did, even if the child was too young to understand.

Really, no one understood. Even the physicists who had tearfully come on and said what was going on didn't really understand why it was happening. More than a few of them had expressed sentiments wishing they hadn't tried to explain it. Of course, that would never fly. As soon as it started, people began to panic and ask questions and search for answers.

The death of the universe wasn't something that could simply be swept under the rug and ignored.

“What are you thinking about?” Nili asked. In person her voice was sweet and throaty; a singer's voice. She should have been a singer, Dante decided.

He turned his head away from her. “What do you think?” he asked bitterly.

“You don't have to think about that all the time,” she said. “I don't.”

He closed his eyes, but even so he could still see the tiny, almost invisible fragments of reality floating way. “How can't you? I dream it too. Every night since it started, my dreams come apart too. Just like this.”

“Not me,” she said. “I dream about being a kid again. I think about happier times. With mom and dad.”

“They would have done something about this,” Dante said for some reason. He so surprised himself that he turned to look at Nili.

“What?” she asked, wide-eyed.

He shrugged. “I don't know,” he mumbled. “Something.”

His feet started to drag on the paved pathway. Some of the particles got into his eyes and he had to blink heavily to get rid of them. As he began to tear up, he pulled his hand away from his sister's and turned away from her.

The tears evaporated from his eyes as quickly as they came and with them went the universe's dust. “It's ok,” she said, laying a hand on his shoulder.

“I wasn't crying,” he told her, wanting to be angry but not mustering the ability. “I got something in my eyes.”

She just took his hand again and led him off the path, down toward the woods. He knew where they were going. He stared up at the trees, mostly bare of leaves. It had been the start of autumn; he supposed it still was the start of autumn, though it didn't feel like any season at all. All the dead leaves had crumbled away already.

The pond used to be filled with life. Buzzing dragonflies and croaking frogs, but they were gone now. All the insects had died in the first days. Anything that ate them had died shortly after. Now there was just the slowly evaporating water. The water slowly lapped at the shore, always coming away shallower than moments ago.

They sat on the ground, not worried about the dirt, and simply stared at the twinkling flakes as they fluttered into the sky.

“When we spread the ashes here,” she said, “I never thought I'd see them leaving like that.”

“Those ashes are long gone,” Dante told her. He held his hand out and watched as infinitesimal bits of it broke off and joined the haze in the sky. “These aren't anything like those.”

“It all goes back to where it came,” she said softly. “Do you remember how we took the small boat out into the center of the pond? Just the two of us, together.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I thought we were supposed to be thinking about happier times.”

“That was a happier time,” she said. He looked around at the crumbling world and shrugged. He supposed it was. “We had each other, then.”

“That's all we needed,” he admitted. “As long as you were there, I could handle anything the world threw at me.”

She smiled a little and her eyes shined with moisture. “Thank you.”

She took her hand from his and laid it in her lap. Only with that gesture did he notice the shine of the metal instrument she had concealed in the folds of her dress. “What are you...” he asked, but her gaze was far away.

After a long time, she said, “I always wanted to be put here, with mom and dad, when I died.”

“It doesn't matter where you go when you die,” he told her, trying to force urgency into his voice. “We're all going to the same place now, anyway. Or the same no place.”

“I want to be with them, one last time.” Her voice was barely audible. He put a hand on her head and ran his fingers through her hair. Thousands of little motes were knocked loose and trickled into the air. She leaned against him and buried her face into his shoulder.

Finally, she raised the gun to her own temple. “That won't matter,” he said softly. She pulled the trigger and fell into his arms.

He held her for many minutes, watching at the particles of creation escaped her body, dancing back and forth on light air currents as they rose voidward. How long would it take for them to just evaporate into nothing? Maybe they would all turn to dust before the Earth couldn't sustain them.

He lifted her and walked to the edge of the pond. The water lapped at his feet. He let out a deep breath and walked forward, slowly into the murky water. As her dangling hand dipped into the pond, she opened her eyes.

“It didn't go off,” she said.

“The gunpowder probably all disappeared,” her told her. “Close your eyes.” She did. So did he. He kept walking forward, the pond water reaching higher and higher.

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