Recently, I took part in a short story writing competition, where the only guidelines you were given was to look at the painting below and create a 1,000-word story based on what you see. It was incredibly fun and challenging. This was my submission. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Credit for the painting goes to Maggie Chiang.
It is the one absolute truth that every living soul can agree upon. No matter what type of existence it is, at some point, it must cease. Whether it be an insect, a flower, an animal, a human, a planet, a galaxy or the universe; everything dies.
This was a sentiment he was all too familiar with as his boots crunched across the blackened tundra. The ground was unsteady like walking on a sea of never-ending charcoal chips, it was the remnants and the shrapnel of what had been existence. This was all that remained of our civilisation and he was all that remained of life anywhere.
There had been more once, he’d even had a family, but as the universe came to an end the point of living had ceased for many. The only reason he carried on was because he still had purpose. It was the end of all things and he wanted a front row seat.
He squinted in the low light from the skies above trying to navigate the scarred and inhospitable landscape. He looked to the heavens and willed them to illuminate his way. He remembered stories and legends about two giants in the sky that held this planet in a delicate balance, but the sun and the moon had long since faded. Now, there was only The Cascade.
Suddenly, his left foot stepped out onto nothing. He paused and brought it slowly back. It was near impossible to see, but he could hear the tumbling of the disturbed rocks going over the edge into the abyss. He had arrived at the end of the world.
He slipped off his pack, as he let out a long satisfied sigh. What better place to see the astral show?
He looked up to The Cascade in the sky and felt an overwhelming sense of awe. It was a waterfall of starlight, swirling slowly downwards in magnificent fashion as if all the galaxies were bleeding and coming together as one. It was an elegant death for the universe and he knew he was fortunate to be standing there, silhouetted against it on the edge of oblivion.
When there had still been others, they had called The Cascade “The Tears of Angels”, as if Heaven itself wept for the end of all things.
He closed his eyes and listened to the vast silence, searching for something in particular. It had been told that if you were up close to The Cascade the sound it produced was a fierce, deafening vortex of colliding energy that was incomprehensible to a living ear; a galactic storm unlike no other. However, from here, across the vastness of space, all that noise became transposed into a lilting soft melody, a lullaby to see the universe to sleep. It’s like the song was the universe’s last breath exhaling in the same majesty as it had lived.
After a short time, he heard it and it’s symphonic beauty caused him to smile. Then a thought occurred to him; if it was just him and the universe left then maybe he could pose it a question. A question that has plagued the mind of any being capable of existential thought since the very beginning.
He considered it carefully, he wanted to word it just right. He was addressing a celestial being after all. What’s the meaning of life? No, too specific. Why are we here? No, far too vague.
“What’s the point?” He yelled out into the ether and then listened for an answer.
He wasn’t sure how long he waited. Hours? Days? There was no real way to tell anymore, just the constant tumble of The Cascade and a song that kept on playing.
Then, just as he was losing hope, the universe answered and not in a way that the man expected. The answer was delivered in a rather sublime way, by simply slowing the song.
All at once he knew, like the epiphany had opened his mind to more than he’d ever been able to comprehend before.
There was no meaning to life. A meaning is an outcome, a sum to an equation or an answer to a question. Everyone gets lost in the final notes of life’s symphony. The end and why is all consuming. When really the how’s and whys aren’t what is important. Everyone’s always been looking for the “answer” and not focussing on the “question”. It’s not about the reasons why we’re alive, it’s because we are. It’s having the ability to allow for satisfaction in the former, not searching for the latter.
The beauty is in living, in the first place.
He smiled at the irony of finally knowing this and having no one to tell. As he went to thank the universe for its answer, he realised his view had changed. His eyes were having to strain against the darkness around him. The Cascade was ending, the last light was fading.
He’d always known that the end would come, but the anxiety of impending death was buried too innately into him. It was out of his control and that made him feel helpless.
Not only that, but he was also the last remnant of one of the universe’s greatest miracles; life.
Life could easily not have happened, but against all the odds the atoms that made up everything at one point suddenly made up us and intrinsically bound us to the very fabric of existence.
In a way, having one last living person there to hold the universe’s hand as it began its eternal slumber was kind of poetic. It created us and saw us through our lifespans, so it only seemed fair that one stayed behind to do the same.
It was in that moment, he knew he was ready. He closed his eyes and listened out once again for the song, but through the darkness, he heard nothing. The last breath had been drawn. The song was over.