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There is no sound at all, except the mournful howl of the sirens across the bay.

The lights have gone out, far away in the city. Those last flickers that creep their way up the buildings are only car headlights, or lonely fires, or the reflection on the windows of the fingernail moon. Through all the rest is darkness, engulfing the distant skyscrapers like the tide, darkness only to play across the vast, impossible thing that wanders those ruined streets.

The wind comes gently out across the water, ruffling my hair and drying my tears, and with it come the smells of smoke and ruin and death. I sit curled against my brother on the hilltop, his jacket bundled around me for warmth, the grass damp with dew beneath us. I’m as quiet as he is, now. It doesn’t feel as if there’s anything left to say.

That thing towers into the nighttime sky, so tall that even from here we have to look up to see the top, so slow that the only way to see it move is to look away and back again. There are no words to describe it. There never are, for things like that. And what would be the point of them, anyway? There’s no one left to tell.

Mother ran out ahead of us, calling for us to follow, and one of its limbs came down and swallowed her up, like a dark star. I didn’t see her face, but I think my brother did, though he won’t say. He’s got a bad cut on his cheek, from the glass that fell on us as we ran. But he says he’ll be all right, and he’s never lied before.

The sound of the sirens bounces oddly off that colossal thing, its pale form distorting them into hooting wails, like some great pale wall in front of the stars. It sounds as if even they are begging it, pleading with it to move on, to leave this city and find another to destroy. But I saw the news broadcasts, before the power went down and the internet died. There aren’t any other cities, not anymore. There isn’t anything at all.

My brother wraps his arm around me, leaning his head down against my hair. His cheeks are wet, though I haven’t heard him crying. His breaths are slow and shaky, and his fingers are cold as ice as they wrap themselves around mine.

He squeezes my hand, and I squeeze his.

Just us two together, here at the end of the world.

Trees flicker by outside the van as the headlights pass over them, pillars in the shadowed hall of the infinite night.

The radio whispers things, sputtering scraps of old commercials and songs neither of us are old enough to know. Mostly it just hisses with static, like pale water that seems to flow out of the speaker and up into our ears. The seats are hard leather, uncomfortable and smelling of sweat and old perfume. Mine has settled around the shape of a much bigger person, and I curl down into it like a baby fox in its den, staring wide-eyed at the darkened world outside.

We found the van a few days ago, in a ditch beside the road. There was only one person in it, hunched over the steering wheel, his clothes too big for his mummified body. My brother told me not to look at him, but I caught a glimpse of the midnight-blue of his bulging veins, and the dried-up darkness that had poured from his eyes and crusted on his cheeks. I still see it when I close my eyes. When Mother isn’t there.

My brother said there’s a place, somewhere far away, where we can go to be safe. It’s a long journey, and we won’t get there for a while, but when we do he said we’ll be okay. He said they have their own power that they get from underground, and they’re too well hidden for any of the new things of the world to find. I asked him how we’ll find them, and he said he knows the way. He always does.

The van lurches suddenly to a halt, the seatbelt pressing itself sharply against my chest. I look up at my brother, confused, and he presses his finger to his lips and points forward out the window.

There, drifting silently across the road, are elegant things, huge and ethereal and pale. Antlers flow vast and branching from their heads, but if they were ever anything like deer they are no longer. They are a new and better creature, more than anything nature or imagination could create, and the headlights flickering across them feel almost irreverent, a leftover mundanity of a world they have left behind.

I feel for my brother’s hand, resting gently on the shift knob, and take it, my fingers curling around his, two small human beings staring up at what is to come.

He squeezes my hand, and I squeeze his.

Just us two together, here at the end of the world.

The gas station is a quiet little thing, huddled by the road like a toy whose owners have grown up and left it behind. The watery daylight is only just bright enough to make out the faded sign above its parking lot, and much too dim to see through the filthy windows to the store inside. There are no cars, no lights, no signs of other people. On the horizon, beyond the trees, smoke curls around the many-jointed legs of a gargantuan thing, its impossible body lost above the pale, suffocating clouds.

My brother comes walking quietly back over, shoulders shrugging forward around himself. He signs that the pumps don’t work, that the power is out here like everywhere else. I ask if we’ll be able to keep going. He shrugs. He doesn’t know.

The van ran out of gas a few miles back. We kept walking, hoping there might be a station, and by the time we found one my legs were already sore, my breathing already ragged. I didn’t know how I would make it back. I guess I won’t have to, now.

My brother itches at the cut on his face. It’s gone all red, now, and blue around the edges. He signs that we should collect some things from the gas station, anything we can carry in our pockets. We’ll need them, on the way to the safe place.

He breaks the glass on the locked door, and I trail after him into the darkness inside, scooping up granola bars and bottles of water and little containers of hand sanitizer. All the magazines have lost their titles, and instead of covers they have pictures of strange places and strange people, of a world like a melting dream. He says we don’t have room, but when he’s not looking I scoop up a candy bar from the rack by the counter. I think we’ll need it.

He meets me again by the door, and gives me a smile despite the bags under his eyes. I smile back, and reach up to take the hand he offers. Then he steps forward and I follow, our boots crunching against the pavement as we start up towards the road.

He squeezes my hand, and I squeeze his.

Just us two together, here at the end of the world.

These swirling, glowing things would be so beautiful if they were fireflies.

I sit on the grass beside the little makeshift fire, the smell of burning paper drifting up into the starry sky. The flames make dark spots on the magazine-covers, eating themselves bigger and bigger through those strange, eerie landscapes until they disappear, one by one, floating away in pale ash. The sparks dance in the air above the fire, mingling with the smoke and the pale contrails that those delicate creatures leave behind.

No two of them are alike, those little shining things. Each is like a thought given form, like impossible origami dancing into lacy-winged life. Their bodies are shrouded in their own light, rippling things made more beautiful by their own asymmetry, moving in somber, mathematical perfection through the air around us. The comet’s tails they leave behind weave and dance around each other, as though each is racing to find the longest way to the stars.

Their cold, pale light lingers on my brother’s face as he sits, looking out across the valley. Something vast moved down there today, though it is gone now, its swirling form carrying it off to places neither he nor I can guess at and leaving the masses of car-headlights to die one by one in its wake. He seems smaller, somehow, as though the journey is eating parts of him away. I just hope there’ll be something left, by the time it’s done.

My legs are so tired. My whole body feels limp, drained and shaky, like my muscles don’t have the strength to support it. I flop down by the dying fire, reaching up to run my fingers through those light-trails, and he looks over and smiles, lying down beside me. His cheek is stained purple around the weeping cut on his face, and there’s something dark and hollow behind his eyes. He asks how I’m doing, and I just point, staring up at the impossible patterns wriggling into existence above us.

After a moment, he stands and stomps out the fire. The darkness is cold, and hauntingly quiet without the crickets, but he comes and lies down beside me and takes my hand, and I pull the jacket over both of us like a blanket. The light-trails wriggle upwards like glowing trees, trapping the stars in an icy cage of pale light.

He squeezes my hand, and I squeeze his.

Just us two together, here at the end of the world.

I keep my eyes locked on the back of my brother’s shirt, clutching his hand like a lifeline, doing everything in my power to resist the urge to look around.

We came upon a city today, one of the fallen ones. The straining sunlight dapples off our backs as it shines down between the broken skyscrapers, and millions of shards of glass crunch against the asphalt beneath our feet. My brother’s hand is sweaty and tense in mine, his pulse pounding in his palm like the quick music he used to listen to. The wind makes little hopeless sounds as it picks its way through the jagged landscape of ruined concrete.

Around us are what used to be people. They’re not statues – they have no bases, and the smooth, grainy stuff they’re made of isn’t stone, any more than it is cloth or hair or skin. Some are frozen running down the ruined street, some just stand and stare at something high in the sky, long since moved on now. Many are injured, and their crumbling, grey-brown insides hang out of them, and shatter when they fall against the pavement.

My brother said he doesn’t know what happened to them. Every noise makes him jump, and though he pretends not to be afraid I know he is. I think he thinks whatever did this is still here somewhere, and if we catch its notice it’ll do what it did to them. I hope he’s wrong. I don’t want us to die like that.

There’s a thing on the horizon, far taller than the mountains. He told me not to look at it, but I did, and I still do sometimes, when I can work up the courage. It’s a wispy, trailing thing, pale as the daytime moon, the clouds catching around the tips of its thousand slow tendrils. It makes my brother shudder to look at it, though I don’t know why. It’s no worse than the other vast giants of the new world we’ve seen.

Towards it we walk, as straight as the streets and ruins will carry us. There was fog here this morning, pale yellow and green, though it is gone now, leaving behind only the desolation around us. He reaches up and scratches at his chin, where the midnight-blue of his wound pulses down his veins like roots unspooling. Every morning it is worse, that discoloration reaching farther and farther through him. He says it’s fine, but his sleeve comes away dark and stained when he wipes his eyes, and I know it isn’t true.

Onwards, ever onwards, footstep after trudging footstep, shadow into pale light into shadow again. I pull myself quietly closer to him, and he glances back over his shoulder and gives me a faint, fragile, blue-stained smile. Not far before we can rest, he signs, and I give a shaky little sigh of relief.

He squeezes my hand, and I squeeze his.

Just us two together, here at the end of the world.

Overhead the tendrils trail, up and up and up, until they meet beneath that gargantuan thing, countless miles into the sky.

We sit on what used to be a lawn, a little yellow house standing before us like a tombstone to honor the old world. Over it, and over the grass, and over everything beyond, is draped something thin and pale, neither spiderweb nor mold, but something soft and lacy and delicate, covered in tiny, weaving filaments. It clings to my skin, when I put my hand on it, as though begging me to stay.

My brother will not look up at the colossus above us. His fists are clenched in his lap, and his eyes stay fixed on the white ground, as though he wants to crawl beneath it and disappear. The blue trails of tears run sometimes down his cheeks.

I crawl over towards him, starting to wrap an arm around his back, but he flinches away and shakes his head. His body feels cold, and his hands are shaking in his lap, fidgeting helplessly with one another like caged spiders. He coughs, deep and hoarse, one of the very few sounds I’ve ever heard him make.

Gently, I reach into my pocket, and set down the candy bar on the pallid feelers in front of him. He goes still, looking quietly down at it, and then gently reaches out to pick it up, snapping it almost reverently in two. He takes a bite of his half, and I can see the stress lift off him, and the relief spreading slowly across his features. I take a bite of mine, and it is the best thing I have tasted since Mother died.

He reaches out a hand, very quietly, and I take it in both of mine, leaning against him and closing my eyes. Overhead, those vast appendages wrap slowly around one another, like clouds dancing high above, and the pale filaments seem to reach towards them like worshipping arms. For the first time in what feels like years, there is peace in my brother’s breath.

He squeezes my hand, and I squeeze his.

Just us two together, here at the end of the world.

He says it’s not far now.

I’m so tired. Every breath feels hoarse and ragged, worn-out lungs gasping at air that no longer tastes real. My legs are numb, and every step takes the effort of moving the world. Again and again his fingers form the rhythm of those words, the hand that does not clutch mine flicking from beneath his chin and falling against his chest, over and over and over, as though the motions themselves are giving him the energy to keep going.

The mountains are too tall around us, and other mountains have come down to meet them out of the sky. The ground is smooth and glassy, trees and cars and shadowy forms trapped within it like flies in amber, and pale, many-legged things pick their way across it, striding with hazy purpose across those misty plains. Wind-turbines tower canted above us like forgotten megaliths, some with blades still creaking in the sour-smelling wind, others still and silent, as though listening to something far away.

My brother is half-dragging me, now, and half dragging himself, his shoes scraping monotonously along the ground. His head is bowed as he signs, not looking up at the changed, broken landscape, not looking at anything but the next step, and the next after that. His breathing is even more ragged than mine.

He never stops coughing, now. The muscles in his chest have torn themselves to shreds, but still he coughs, blue sludge crusting at the edges of his mouth and staining long trails down his cheeks. For a time, he tried not to cry where I could see. Now tears seem like a second breath, his cheeks never able to dry, the pale translucence beneath us spattered occasionally with color as one finds its way to the ground.

We don’t talk much anymore. We never did, not really, but my throat is too tired now, and his hands are swollen and throbbing. The food has run out, and my stomach scrapes aching at my insides, but we don’t bother looking for more, any more than we bother sitting down to rest. There doesn’t seem a point to it, now. Either we’ll get there, or we won’t.

Sunset turns the plains to golden glass, and throws the mountains’ long shadows out across the world. My brother’s hand flickers up and down, conveying those words again and again and again. Far in the distance, something too big to be more than a pale shadow raises strange limbs, and turns toward the evening sky.

He squeezes my hand, and I squeeze his.

Just us two together, here at the end of the world.

It is on a long bridge, stretching out forever across some vast, misty lake, that he collapses at last.

He falls hard on the asphalt, coughing up great gouts of midnight-blue fluid across his shirt. He tries to pull himself upright, but I can feel the slick chill of his skin, the stuttering staccato beat of his heart. For what feels like the first time in my entire life, he lets go of my hand.

I fall to my knees beside him, shaking his shoulder, frantically asking him what’s wrong. He signs that he’s all right, that he just needs a moment to rest, but it’s obvious he’s lying. He opens his eyes and stares up at me, and they are inkwells of midnight blue, stretching off into endless, star-filled depths.

It is at that moment that I realize he’s dying.

Uncontrollable tears are flowing down my cheeks, falling with gentle sounds into the blue foulness on his. I beg him to get up. I beg him to keep breathing. I beg him to stay, to let me find help, food, something. But there is nothing, and we both know it, as he chokes on the fluid in his throat.

Whimpering, I lean down over him, asking him how far it is to the safe place. Perhaps I can get him there. Perhaps, at least, he can die somewhere that isn’t this awful nightmare of the world.

Clouds drift across the lake below us, obscuring the vast shadows that move within. Overhead, the sky shimmers a new color, a kind of blue that it’s never been before.

At last, at long last, he raises a shaking hand.

I’m sorry, he signs, slowly, painstakingly picking out the words. I didn’t want to lie to you. I really didn’t. But we had to have something. We had to try. Even if there wasn’t anything to try for.

He raises a hand and takes mine within it, holding up the other with the middle two fingers folded against his palm. I love you.

Sobbing, I curl myself against his chest, and feel the breath go out of him.

I squeeze his hand, and he does not respond.

Just me, alone, here at the end of the world.

Written by StalkerShrike
Content is available under CC BY-SA