A BLARING ALARM WAKES me from my pleasant but soon-forgotten dreams. Over our intercom system, a voice says calmly, “It’s happening. Get to the van.” That’s it. No preamble, no fear. I flip the covers off of me, grab a small pack from under my bed and slip on the nearest pair of shoes.
The small voice of panic peaks out in the back of my head, but I quickly box it up. Adrenaline and routine carry me out of my bedroom. My roommates are pouring out of the rooms to my left and right, all in different stages of dress, all of them carrying a single small brown backpack, volume and space having been precisely calculated.
I feel the ground rumbling beneath me, and once again shove down my rising panic. I race down the hallway, in the opposite direction that the others are going. My friends don’t say a word to me as I pass them. Their eyes are filled with expressions ranging from shock to steely determination.
Luna comes out of the room at the very end of the hall. She’s wearing a bathrobe and converse, her backpack slung over one shoulder. “Has she come out yet?” I ask, pointing to the closed door just beyond my left hand. Luna shakes her head, and before she can say anything, the shaking house causes me to stumble into her. Luna steadies me, her hand pressed against the wall. “It’s ahead of schedule,” she says.
“Or we’re behind schedule,” I say with a grim smile.
I laugh lightly in response to Luna’s glare and push open the door to the little bedroom on the left, whose single occupant is still sound asleep in her bed. How the little girl managed to sleep through both the alarms and earthquakes, I have no idea. I run over to her bed and shake her gently. Her eyelashes flutter as she wakes. “Time to go,” I say, strapping velcro shoes to her feet before she’s even sat up. I grab her bag and push it into her arm as I take her other hand.
She doesn’t resist, following my actions mechanically. Just as we are about to leave her bedroom, the house shakes again and a chasm splits open the ground before us. The little girl screams as she almost falls into it. I yank on her arm, swinging her back through the air and into my arms. She buries her face in my neck as she wraps her arms around me.
“Jump!” Luna calls from the hallway where she’s still waiting for us. Seeing no other choice, I take a few steps back and run forward, leaping over the chasm with my eyes closed and my arms wrapped tightly around the child. Luna catches me as I stumble on the other side. Smaller chasms spider web across the floor, lava bubbling out of them and eating away at the carpet.
New cracks seem to appear with every step we take, and we jump from one patch of safety to another like a deadly game of hopscotch. With the foundation of the house shot to hell, the walls and ceiling are beginning to crumble around us. I silently pray that our friends on the second floor have already made it out.
We sprint through the living room, where our couch looks like a horrible Build-a-Bear accident, and finally make it to the front door. The wooden steps have completely burnt away, so we leap the short distance to the ground outside. I see a few of my roommates piling into the van. We’re the last ones to leave the house… I hope. Zelda starts the engine as we leap across the yard. The street is starting to break apart as well, and I wonder if we’re going to make it out this time. Just as the thought crosses my mind, the ground beneath the van begins to open up. Zelda drives forward to avoid being swallowed by the fiery void. The earth is shattering, and we’ve stayed just barely ahead of it for months now. Perhaps our good luck was bound to break eventually.
Our friends open the windows and shout for us to hurry. As more cracks open up, Zelda is forced to drive more quickly. I rush forward, pushing the child through the open window of the moving vehicle. Luna and I leap onto the ledge at the back of the van, holding on for dear life. “Is everyone in?” Zelda asks.
“Just drive!” Luna and I shout needlessly, as Zelda is already picking up speed. Luna and I scale the back of the car, clambering onto the roof. We crawl towards the roof window, which our friends have opened for us. As the van hits another crack in the road, I slip over the side. Luna catches my arm before I’m lost entirely, bracing herself against the small bars that line the sides of the roof. As the van takes a sharp turn, I’m flung back onto the roof of the vehicle, my leg hanging through the sunroof. I slide into the van, pulling Luna in after me.
For a moment, we just lie there, breathing hard and sprawled across the laps of our friends, all of them staring at us with varying expressions of concern and amusement. “Are you alright?” I ask Zoe. The little girl’s dark hair flutters in the wind as she stares back at me with an expression of resigned fear.
“Are we going to make it?” Luna calls up to the front seat.
“Don’t you trust me?” Zelda retorts, an ironclad grip on the steering wheel. This isn’t really an answer, but I decide it’s best not to point that out under the current circumstances.
Amazingly, the worst of it seems to be behind us. As we leave the town behind, our old van still creaks over the battered roads, but there are no longer any deep, lava-gushing craters that we have to veer around.
Once the roads clear up, we swap drivers, giving Zelda a much-deserved nap. We drive for twenty-four hours, and I have to pee for six of them. However, any stop we take means less time and space between us and almost-certain death, so I keep my mouth and bladder shut.
There are burns on my legs from the splashing lava that begin to sting after my adrenaline dies down. I take a bottle of salve out of my pack and smear it on the aggravated skin. It feels cool and pleasant, easing the pain a little. Since I was carrying her, Zoe managed to escape with few tangible injuries, and my other friends tend to their own wounds.
We finally arrive at the National Park and make our way towards a lovely little resort. We fork up the money without complaint – we all have a stash of bills in our pack – and enter the resort. The first thing we do is storm the restrooms.
After I’ve relieved myself, I dig around in my pack for my emergency clothes. All I’m wearing now is some underwear and a large T-shirt that falls halfway down my thighs. My ankle-high zip-up boots are only slightly singed from the burning magma. I apply more salve to my burns and then gratefully slip on a pair of yoga pants. I find a sports bra and a thin sweater rolled up tightly at the bottom of my pack and put them on.
As I’m doing this, Zoe is sitting on the sink counter, splashing in the water as it sputters from the faucet. I smile when I see her, glad she can still find pleasure in such simple things. She’d dropped her bag in the chasm that opened up in her bedroom, but I decide that the cotton PJs she’s wearing now should suffice for a while. Without waiting for the others, I swoop Zoe into my arms and go off to find my cabin.
It’s a simple little log cabin on top of a hill, surrounded by identical structures. Inside, there are two rooms: one has a couch and a table with chairs, along with a few cupboards that are probably empty; the other room has a bunk bed in one corner and a dresser in the other. I deposit Zoe on the couch and proceed to empty the contents of my bag onto the table. Inside I have one pair of shorts and a tank top, a few pairs of underwear, a toothbrush and toothpaste (dental hygiene is important even when the world is ending), a hairbrush (vanity never dies), a bar of soap, a notebook and pen, a phone and charger (despite the fact that cell service has been a little questionable lately, what with the world ending), a box of Clif bars, duct tape (contrary to popular belief, duct tape does not fix everything, such as the shattering world, but it can still be quite helpful), some rope (this particular item had yet to be useful, but it had seemed like a good addition to my end of the world starter pack), a knife (which is always invaluable), a roll of toilet paper (even more invaluable), and a first aid kit. Said first aid kit consists of two small bottles of the salve I used earlier, alcohol wipes, a roll of bandages, lotion, and an EpiPen (when the planet decides to commit suicide, you’re exposed to a lot of things you never considered being allergic to before).
Seeing everything you possess lying in a pathetic pile on an undersized dining-room table can be pretty depressing. Zoe appears beside me, clinging to my hand as she stands on tip-toe to peer at the contents of my little bag, “you don’t have any socks,” she says with a frown. It’s the first thing she’s said since we left the house.
I laugh as I brush the hair out of her face, “you’re right,” I say, “that’s what I need. Socks.” She grins, pleased to have helped me, then waddles back to the couch. She’s taken her own socks off and is wearing them on her hands like puppets.
Luna walks into the room and stands beside me. Zoe wisely tells her that I am in need of socks. Luna laughs, “I’ll give you some socks if you let me use your soap,” she says.
“Deal,” I grin. Together, we use the sheets and blankets that the resort provided to make our beds. With Luna here, the ghastly situation feels more like a sleepover or a camping trip that we are mildly unprepared for.
Not less than an hour after we get settled, Zelda and Kayla knock on our door. “We’re leaving tomorrow,” Zelda says with her typical bluntness, “Are you coming?”
“Tomorrow?” Luna asks, “Why so soon?”
“The earthquakes are becoming unpredictable,” Kayla says. “Earthquakes” was a vague description of what was quite literally rocking the planet. It was more like Earth’s core was exploding, sending rivers of lava through the streets of our precious cities. “We need to get to the mountains as quickly as possible.”
“I promised my brother that I would wait here with Zoe for at least a week,” I say. “I don’t want to hold you guys back though,” I add when the expressions on their faces clearly imply that they won’t. “I know I’m not the only one hoping to meet family.”
“Do you think you can find another ride?” Zelda asks.
“If my brother gets here on time, he’ll hopefully bring a ride,” I say, “If not,” I shrug, “I’m sure I can hitch-hike with someone.”
Zelda nods, “Luna?”
Luna looks between me and Zelda, “I’m going to stay here too.” I know Luna too well to try to argue; when she makes a decision, her mind is made up. Zelda and Kayla look unsurprised.
WHEN I AWAKE THE next morning, my arm is numb from Zoe laying on it all night. I’m still rubbing feeling into it when Luna clambers down from the top bunk. “Should we see the others off?” She asks.
I nod and roll out of bed. Zoe sits up groggily and follows me as I pull on my clothes and walk out of the cabin with Luna. We hug our friends farewell. A few of them offer to stay with me, but I know it’s just a courtesy offer, so I dutifully insist that they go and find their families in the mountains.
As they pile into the van and begin to drive away, I turn to Luna, “Last chance,” I tell her, “You sure you want to stay?”
“Of course,” she says, holding her pinky out to me. I smile, wrapping my pinky around hers. We watch as our other friends drive away towards the safety of the mountains.
“Is Daddy coming?” Zoe asks me when the van is out of sight.
“That’s the plan, Sweetheart,” I say, ruffling her hair.
Not sure how else to spend our time, we go to the lake a short walk away from our cabin. The sun is shining through the haze, a good sign that we have at least a few days before dystopia disrupts the resort. I use the bar of soap to scrub myself and Zoe clean, then hand it off to Luna. When we feel sufficiently clean and refreshed, we lay on the beach, drying in the warmth of the sun.
We’d seen a few people since we arrived at the resort, mostly keeping to themselves. If the past few months have taught me anything, I know that some of them are like us, resting or waiting for loved ones before moving on, while others have no plans to leave this place. While we’re laying in the sand, a young man with the same idea as us wades into the water to take a bath. Seeing us watching him, he smiles and waves as if we’re just a few kids hanging at the beach during summer break.
Sitting up on her elbows, Luna waves back, and he walks over to us.
“Hello,” he says, running his hand through his long wet hair. He looks to be a few years older than us, lean and tall.
“Hi,” Luna and I say in unison, not bothering to sit up.
“I’m Wesley,” he says, dropping down beside us.
“I’m Luna,” Luna says, then points at me, “This is Liza,” She gestures towards the four-year-old wearing nothing but her underwear and playing in the sand, “That’s Zoe.”
“Hi Zoe,” he waves amiably at the little girl, who narrows her eyes suspiciously before giving Wesley a tentative smile. You know what they say about babies and dogs.
“So what’s your story?” Wesley asks us.
“Oh, you know,” I say, “Just having a lovely beach vacation.”
Wesley laughs, “Where are you coming from?” I assume he sees the burns on our legs, but he doesn’t mention it.
“East,” I answer.
“We’ve been moving west, resting for a few weeks in various houses and hotels,” Luna says, giving him a slightly more expanded explanation.
“Heading for the mountains?” he asks.
Luna nods, “We came here with a group of friends, but they moved on this morning. We’re waiting for Liza’s brother before we go on.”
“You think he’ll show?”
I shrug, attempting to remain nonchalant, “I hope so,” I say, “At least for Zoe’s sake. She’s my niece,” I explain.
“Ah,” Wesley has the decency not to ask any more questions.
“How about you?” I ask, “Where did you come from and where are you going?”
“I own a helicopter,” he says, “I’ve been flying people from this resort to the mountains.”
“Seriously?” Luna sits up now.
“Yeah,” he says, “For a price, of course. Mostly families with children or old people, who can’t make it up there on their own.”
“We have a child,” I say, “And money. Would you take us?”
Wesley nods, “As long as you don’t wait so long that I get killed,” he says, “I hear the quakes are supposed to reach here within the next ten days. It’ll reach the mountains in less than a month. Then we’ll see how safe that oasis is. How long are you planning on waiting here?”
“A week,” I reply with certainty.
“Okay,” he nods, “I’m taking a few others up tomorrow. Assuming I don’t crash and die, I’ll come back for you.”
“What’s your price?” Luna asks.
“How badly do you want my help?”
“Will that affect the price?”
“Well,” I say, “I’d hate to die.”
“Point taken,” he says. “I can only take a few people at a time, so I like to take people who actually need me. But I suppose in a week’s time, most people who are planning to survive will have cleared out of here.”
“So you’re saying we’re cutting it pretty close?”
“Yeah,” Wesley shrugs “But if you want to reunite the kid with her dad and save your brother, it’s probably your best bet. There are a lot of mountain asylums; it’s usually pretty hard to find anyone. Look, I’m leaving tomorrow with another family. I’ll be back two days after that. I’d like to take a day to rest, but I could take you back then if your brother has already shown up or it’s looking too dangerous to wait.”
I nod, “So what’s your price?” I ask again.
Wesley gets up, “Not more than you have,” he says, then walks away.
Luna and I make eye contact, “That’s a bit cryptic,” I say.
Luna laughs and lays back down on the sand. My chest feels lighter; I hadn’t realized how worried I was about finding a way out without our other friends.
AFTER OUR BEACH DAY, I take Zoe to a gift shop and buy her an entire outfit: sweatpants, T-shirt, sweatshirt. I buy us both hats and gloves and scarves and get another sweatshirt for myself. I realize we’re going to look like walking advertisements, but it’s the best I can do. We’re going to need warmer clothes.
As I’m paying for our new wardrobe, I see Zoe eying the rack of stuffed animals. “Do you want one?” I ask her.
“Really?” She stares up at me, her eyes sparkling like I’ve just offered to take her to Disney World (Which would be impossible, since Disney World no longer exists).
“The world is ending, honey,” I say with a laugh, “You can have anything you want.”
Zoe takes full advantage of my generosity, loading up on stuffed animals and candy. I smile apologetically at the cashier as we pile our merchandise onto the checkout counter. The man seems mildly overwhelmed, the look in his eyes a little wild. I wonder if this is a new occurrence for him. It seems unlikely, but in times like these, you never know what’s going to break someone. Perhaps my niece’s zeal for buying toys at the end of the world is the last straw.
I look at the man warily, not sure I want to see someone actively lose their sanity in front of me. Thankfully, the man composes himself. Pushing the pile towards us, he says, “Just take it. It’s not like we’ll have much need for the money anyway.”
“Thanks.” Smiling gratefully, I scoop up the clothes. “Get your stuffed animals.”
ZOE FALLS ASLEEP EARLY, and Luna is out gathering some food for us. I decide to take a short walk, and I find Wesley standing on a cliff overlooking the lake. I kick a few rocks as I approach, not wanting to scare him off the cliff. The sun is setting and the breeze off the lake feels cool and pleasant.
“It doesn’t feel like the end of the world, does it?” Wesley says as if reading my thoughts. I nod. The horizon is painted orange and pink, the lake a stunning blue in the dying light. The trees make a soft whispering sound as they sway in the breeze. This place is untouched by the tragedy that is sweeping the world. At least for now.
“You didn’t tell us about your family,” I say to Wesley.
“They’re gone,” Wesley says.
“I’m sorry,” I reply. Family is a sensitive subject these days.
“It’s okay,” Wesley says, “My parents died when I was a kid, way before all of this,” he gestures vaguely at the world around us. “I’ve always been alone.”
“I’m sorry,” I say again, feeling a little uncomfortable.
Wesley shrugs. “I think I’m better off than everyone else now,” he says. “I have no one to hold me back, and I’m not holding anyone else back. I’ve got no one that I have to wait for.”
I’m tempted to say that the people I love aren’t holding me back, that I’m not sure I could’ve kept going these past few weeks if it wasn’t for Luna and my other friends, that I probably would’ve given up if I didn’t have Zoe to take care of, that waiting for my brother doesn’t feel like a weakness. But I don’t say any of that. Instead, I say, “You’re waiting for us.”
WESLEY LEAVES THE NEXT morning. Luna, Zoe, and I spend two days pretending that everything is normal. We go to the beach, we go on picnics, we go for hikes. The hours pass by incoherently. Every second, more and more people leave until Luna and Zoe are the only people I see. During the day, I’m able to push all of my worries to the back of my mind, but at night I’m haunted by nightmares of the ground breaking apart, lava spilling through the floors of our cabin, destroying everything that it touches. At least three times a night, I startle awake, my brother’s name forming on my lips.
Luna and I are standing on the edge of the cliff when we see the helicopter flying in. We run to greet him. Wesley clambers out of the helicopter, looking ragged and exhausted. I wonder if he’s slept at all in the past two days. There’s a look of panic in his eyes that I don’t like.
Luna sees it too, “What’s wrong?” she asks, jumping forward to steady Wesley as he stumbles out of the chopper.
“There’s less time than we thought,” Wesley gasps, “I could see the quakes from the sky.”
“How much time do we have?” I ask.
“By my estimates, maybe two days, probably less,” he shakes his head, “They’re gaining speed, it’s hard to tell when it’ll reach us.” Looking at me apologetically, he says, “We need to leave as soon as possible.”
“We can wait a few hours, can’t we?” Luna says, seeing my expression, “We need some time to figure out what this means, and you need some rest, Wesley.”
Wesley doesn’t argue with that last part, “We should leave by tonight at the latest.” He looks at me, “I’m sorry, Liz.” He and Luna are both staring at me, trying to decipher how I will react. I know what they’re thinking. We’re in one of the last known safe places on Earth, and the quakes are coming faster than anyone realized. How do we know that my brother is even alive?
Zoe looks up at me, tugging on my hand. There’s a sadness in her eyes that breaks my heart. She might not know exactly what’s happening, but she understands enough. I back away from the others and find myself running back to the cabin. Tears sting my eyes, but I don’t feel like crying. I’m angry. Angry at who, I don’t know. It’s not Wesley’s fault; he was kind enough to return for us, people he’d only just met, at the risk of his own life.
I’m sitting on my bed, my back against the wall. I don’t remember coming inside the cabin. I don’t know what to do. If my brother is still alive, there’s no way he’ll make it to the mountains without Wesley’s helicopter. I can’t just leave him for dead, but I also can’t risk Zoe’s life on the slim chance that he’s still out there, and I can’t expect Luna and Wesley to make that kind of sacrifice.
I think back to when all of this began. I was babysitting Zoe while my brother went on an anniversary trip with his wife. It was supposed to be a few days. We saw it on the news first. A few hours later, before we’d had time to process what was happening, it reached us. The ground we were standing on broke apart. My friends and I barely escaped with our lives. It’s a miracle we did. My brother called the next day. His wife was gone. The rest of our family was gone. He told me to meet him at this National Park. He gave me a date. Said he would be here.
That’s when I realize it’s my brother that I’m angry with, for putting this all on me, for not being here when we need him, for making me decide if it’s worth it to wait for him.
A buzzing sound fills me with an irrational annoyance. The world is ending. Most of my family is dead. So why do we still have to deal with bugs? Why couldn’t they be wiped out with all the other descent species of life?
I remember a day long ago, sitting around a campfire. The sound of a million mosquitos filling the air. “That sound will be the thing that drives me insane,” I’d said.
The buzzing is rhythmic. It seems to shake the floor. Falling onto my side, I put a pillow over my ear, curling up into a tight ball. Am I losing it? Like the man in the gift shop, breaking at the sight of a child with an armful of stuffed animals, my sanity is flying away on the wings of an insect.
The sound stops. After a moment I sit up, looking around to make sure no one saw my little meltdown. Then it hits me. I’m so stupid. Scrambling around frantically, I find my backpack and dig my hand inside, pulling out my cracked phone. I charged it at the last house we stayed at and haven’t touched it since, so there’s still some power in it. There’s a missed call from my brother. My hands are shaking as I unlock my phone. I try to call him back, but the call doesn’t go through. It’s a chance in a million that he got the call to me, and I blew it.
He left a voicemail. I take a deep breath and put the phone to my ear. My brother’s voice rings through. The message is broken up, and I can hardly hear what he’s saying: “Hey Liz, it’s……. I hope you and Zoe…. I’m in……. make it……to safety…. love you….”
By the time Luna finds me, I’m shaking so hard I can hardly hold out the phone to her. “He’s alive,” I say, my voice raw. I didn’t realize how unsure I’d been that he wasn’t dead. Luna listens to the message. “We have to wait for him,” I say, “I’m sorry-”
“Okay,” Luna cuts me off. “I’ll tell Wesley.”
Zoe curls up next to me, “I want my daddy,” she says softly.
It’s the end of the world, Honey, You can have whatever you want. I pull her close, whispering the words into her curly hair, too quiet for anyone to hear.
I fall asleep with my arms wrapped around Zoe. She’s as much of a comfort to me as I am to her. We lay there for the rest of the day and into the night. I’m not sure if I’m awake or asleep most of the time, each passing hour holds as much panic as rest. Luna wakes me in the morning, a worried expression on her face. “What is it?” I ask, quietly disentangling myself from Zoe’s still arms.
“It’s even worse than we thought,” Luna says, her expression pained, “We need to get out of here, Liz.”
I follow Luna outside of the cabin, where Wesley is waiting by the door. “We’ve got a few hours at most, Liza,” he says. “I know you don’t want to abandon your brother, but you won’t do anyone any good if you’re dead.”
I nod, desperately trying to keep hold of my senses. “We’ll pack up,” I say. Luna and Wesley share a look as if neither of them expected me to agree so quickly. What else can I do?
Zoe rubs her eyes sleepily as I help her layer on all of the new clothes I bought for her. Our bags are already packed up. We’re used to being prepared to leave at any moment. Zoe tries to shove all of her stuffed animals into my bag. I tell her she can only take a couple. “But I want them all,” she says. It’s the end of the world, Honey, You can have whatever you want. I’m such a liar.
“We don’t have the space for it,” I tell her, “Just two. And you need to hold them.” A few months ago, this little girl would’ve thrown a fit at the prospect of leaving her toys behind. When my brother had first dropped her off at my house, she’d cried for two solid hours because she forgot to bring her favorite doll. Now she doesn’t argue. She kisses each stuffed animal tenderly on the nose and covers them with a blanket. She only takes one. Then she looks up at me with that resigned fear I can’t believe I’m used to seeing.
I try to call my brother again, but it doesn’t go through. Handing my bag to Luna, I tell her to get Zoe and all of our stuff to Wesley’s helicopter. “What are you doing?” She asks me.
“I’m just going to hike up to the cliff for a few minutes,” I tell her. “I need to see.” Luna seems to understand. I need to see the destruction for myself. I need to see that the end of the world has finally reached us. I need to see that there’s no chance for me to save my brother now.
I run to the cliff where I’d stood with Wesley only a few days ago. On the furthest edges of the lake, the water seems painted with fire. The sun is covered by plumes of smoke, casting a strange glow over everything. Yesterday, my brother was alive. I heard his voice. But I should know by now that sure life yesterday doesn’t mean anything for today. I need to get Zoe to safety. That’s what he would want, more than anything.
A sob rises in my throat. I haven’t let myself cry for so long. Tears stream down my cheek as I fall to my knees on the hard rock. I want my parents, I want my brother. It’s the end of the world, I’d told Zoe, You can have whatever you want. I scream out my frustration. It’s not true. It was never true. Not about stuffed animals, and not about people. At the end of the world, you don’t get anything you want. All you get is dead brothers and lost friends and responsibilities you were never supposed to have and above all, crushing guilt. Why am I alive when so many others are gone? What’s the point of living when so many others are gone? Why try?
“Liza!” And there’s my answer. Zoe’s voice blows toward me. I start to run back to the others. I’m halfway there when the ground starts to break apart. I run faster, but the cracks are getting worse this way. A chasm opens up right in front of me, lava spilling through and scorching the tips of my boots. I take a step back so I can leap across, but another crack opens up under my foot and I fall to the ground.
“Get to the cliff, Liza,” I hear Luna yell. “We’ll pick you up!” The sound of the chopper blades whir as they begin to spin. Scrambling to my feet, I run back the way I just came. Stumbling over the cracks of the Earth’s breaking surface, I manage to fall only twice more. I see the helicopter hovering at the edge of the cliff. I’m not going to make it. The edge of the cliff rock breaks off and plummets into the ocean. The ground is splitting apart. The helicopter has nowhere to land.
Luna is lowering a rope as the chopper flies closer to me. A desperate, last-ditch attempt to save my life.
Falling over again, I find myself on an island surrounded by lava. I won’t be safe for long. Wesley is lowering the helicopter, trying to get close enough for me to grab the rope. It’s not going to work.
As I stand up, I make eye contact with Luna, hoping she can read my mind. I take a few running steps forward and then leap as far and as high as I possibly can. I feel myself falling down, down, over the cliff, and towards the water. Then somehow, miraculously, my fingers find the rope. I cling to it, all of my strength concentrated on holding on to that rope as Luna pulls me up. She drags me onto the helicopter as the rest of my cliff explodes. The lake is now completely red, the park looks like one big exploding volcano.
Zoe curls up in my lap, her face hidden in my shoulder. Luna and I are frozen, watching the place we had spent a few nights in safety and comfort dissolve.
WE ARRIVE IN THE mountains hours later, landing roughly on a plateau. Time is hard to decipher with the sun hidden behind layers of smoke. I’m not sure if it’s the evening or the next morning. Wesley says some debris hit the helicopter at the cliff. It managed to get us this far, but it can’t fly any further. “We’ll have to walk if we want to make it to an asylum,” he says.
“Will we be any safer there than here?” Luna asks.
Wesley shrugs, “Probably not. But they have food. And your friends might be there.” I feel suddenly guilty. I haven’t thought about Zelda and the others for a while. But my worry wouldn’t help them, I remind myself. Besides, they’re strong and determined enough that I’m fairly certain they arrived safely.
“Let’s stop here,” I say, “I think we all could use a rest.” The others nod in agreement.
It’s cold up here, and we all layer on as many clothes as we can. Wesley has a few blankets in the helicopter and we all lay down on the ground together. Zoe is curled up under my arm while Luna uses Wesley’s thigh for a pillow.
When the others are asleep, I sit up, making sure not to wake Zoe as I rummage through my bag for my phone. I don’t know why I feel the urge to do it to myself, but I need to listen to the message from my brother one more time.
I take a deep breath and put the phone to my ear. My brother’s voice comes through. It’s amazing. Maybe there’s somehow better service up here, or maybe the universe is finally taking pity on me, but I can hear every word he says: “Hey Liz, It’s Kaleb. I can only hope that you and Zoe are okay. But listen, I don’t have much time. I’m not going to make it. If you ever get this message, I want you and Zoe to get to safety. I’m sorry I’m not there, but I want you both to know that I love you so damn much.”
Tears run down my cheeks as I put the phone down. The others are awake, staring at me. “You okay?” Luna asks.
“Yes,” I say honestly.
We walk to the top of the mountain and look out at the collapsing world. From this far away, the brilliant reds and oranges seem almost beautiful. I wonder if this mountain will really protect us from what’s coming. It seems unlikely, but I’m not scared anymore. If we survive, rebuilding a life will be hard, but at least we’ll have each other. And if we die here today or tomorrow, we’ll still have each other.
“Is the world ending?” Zoe asks, her voice innocent and sad. At least there’s no more fear in her eyes.
I scoop Zoe up into my arms. “Yes,” I say, unable to lie to her anymore, “The world is ending.”
“So, what do you want?”
It’s the end of the world. You can have whatever you want.
I look over at my friends. Luna puts her arm around me and leans her head against my shoulder, her other hand holding Wesley’s. “At the end of the world,” I say, “All I want is you.”