“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” — REM
“It’s always the end of the world.” — Jess Walter
Short Story Month continues! As part of our showcase, we’re looking at the end of the world and the many ways it is depicted in fiction. We solicited stories from some of science fiction and fantasy’s best writers and opened a call for submissions to our readership in order to publish a group of stories about the apocalypse based on the above two quotes. The following stories from writers Nancy Kress, Emily Devenport, Allison Augustyn, Joan Childs, and Shane R. Collins interpret the end of the world in 25 – 250 words. “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” Enjoy!
“It’s Always The End of The World”
by Nancy Kress
A huge, parched, windswept plain. Nothing moved except dust, blowing ceaselessly. Nothing lived except Potter, trudging toward a rickety structure that had once been a barn, on what had once been a farm, in what had once been the fertile Midwest. He fell—
“John, John, wake up! You’re having a nightmare!”
Linda’s arm shaking him, her face looming over his, the huge curve of her belly bumping gently against his chest.
“I…yes…it…” He wrapped his arms around her.
“A nightmare? About your mother?”
“No.” In a little while, he slept again.
The asteroid came closer, closer, until it smashed into Asia, the shock felt in quakes even as far away as Iowa. In the time illogic of dreams, immediately came the tsunamis, the dust dark as night, the storms and die-offs of species after species, the terrible—
This time he woke himself, shaking and sweating. Linda slept on. John rose, made himself warm milk, went back to bed.
The weapons arced out of the sky, bringing searing light, deadly mushroom clouds, flames and horror. John’s eyeballs seared. His skin sloughed off—
Morning. Linda came out of the bathroom, her cell in her hand. “Sweetie, that was your sister. Your mother’s gone, I’m so sorry…”
John reached for his wife, buried his face in the bulge of her warmth.
“Nothing will be the same without her,” Linda said. “It’s like…the end of the world.”
John said, before he knew he would speak, “It’s always the end of the world.”
The child kicked from inside its secret, temporary sea.
And the beginning.
Nancy Kress is the author of thirty-two books, including twenty-five novels, four collections of short stories, and three books on writing. Her work has won five Nebulas, two Hugos, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Most recent works are the Nebula-nominated Yesterday’s Kin (Tachyon, 2014) and the forthcoming Best of Nancy Kress (Subterranean, September, 2015). In addition to writing, Kress often teaches at various venues around the country and abroad; in 2008 she was the Picador visiting lecturer at the University of Leipzig. Kress lives in Seattle with her husband, writer Jack Skillingstead, and Cosette, the world’s most spoiled toy poodle.
by Shane R. Collins
Kayla spotted the pansy three blocks away, the purple petals a stark contrast to the grays of concrete rubble, rebar, and broken glass. The flower grew tentatively from a crack in the asphalt, hunched beneath a crumpled beer can like a small mammal emerging from its hole on the first warm day of spring.
Reaching down to pluck the flower, Kayla imagined putting it in her greasy hair, or maybe holding it as she walked, bringing it to her lips to inhale every time she saw another body. Her fingers brushed across the petals but she couldn’t do it, couldn’t kill this green, living plant, the first beautiful thing she’d seen in months. Gently, Kayla lifted the beer can from the pansy and walked away, smiling.
Shane R. Collins recently graduated from the Stonecoast MFA program. His work has been published in The Masters Review Volume III, 2 Bridges Review, and The Sand Canyon Review. Another one of his stories was a finalist for Best New Writing 2015. He’s currently seeking representation for a novel. Collins lives and writes from a homestead in rural Vermont.
by Joan Childs
Déjà vu. Again. Groundhog Day’s got nothin’ on me.
The ragged red barn stares at me through the fog. Twin windows twinkle with hurricane-lamp pupils. This time I know who holds them. They held those same lamps the last time, and the time before.
Only now, I won’t walk blindly in. In my last attempt, I noticed a shotgun laying in the grass by the water tank.
I drop to my knees, the damp clay coating my jeans. I crawl like an infant toward the weapon and then squat behind the trough. I reach around it, my hand easily finding the cold steel barrel and tugging it into my clutches.
Now I am armed. Those machete-wielding creatures from hell are in for a surprise. Before, they lured me in with their homey little lamps, promising warmth and shelter. Even when I was ready for them the second time, they got the drop on me by using a trip wire at the door. But this time I’m armed. I’ll blow those prehistoric bastards back to the black hole they crawled out of.
I leap up and run to the barn door, the pump-action shotgun leading the way. I blast everything in sight. Shoot first, ask questions later.
From the loft, a fiery creature leaps down on me, flaming straw scorching my flesh as I fall. In moments the world goes up in flames.
Joan Childs is an equestrian coach from West Tennessee. She is an author and professional consultant at Animal World.com. Her fiction stories have been featured in the Fall 2013 edition of The Origami Journal, Indies Unlimited 2015 anthology, and Yahoo voices.
by Allison Augustyn
Long ago I felt a shudder, and ran through falling roars and tails until I crumbled into carbon. We sank together underground, shifted through sediment and shale to surface, some as oil, others upright citizens. I came alone through the mines, burned into air, precipitated world leaders who inhaled, then brushed their teeth as I circled the drain. I evaporated with oceans, became cancerous, went extinct until there was almost nothing. Then you were born, and it really was the end of the world because the world was more, this shell without significance now hatched and hatching, reformed.
Allison Augustyn (Seattle, WA) is an award-winning writer and editor. She recently finished an unpublished young adult novel about environment, seed banks, and U.S./China culture clash. She was a rock music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and Seattle Times, and contributed to the book Kill Your Idols. She is also co-author of the PROSE award-winning Gems and Gemstones (University of Chicago). Allison is a 2015 graduate of Washington’s ArtistTrust EDGE program, and has work forthcoming in the UK journal Doll Hospital, among others. AllisonAugustyn.com.
“Cash or Charge?”
by Emily Devenport
Chris Welborn wiped his forehead and replaced his hat, hoping he would not pass out from the heat on this late April afternoon on Second Mesa, Arizona. The Hopi dancers had gone halfway through the village. He spotted a new acquaintance and was pleased when Lance Kabotie joined him.
“Some ceremonies are supposed to be witnessed,” Lance had explained when Chris met him at LANCE KABOTIE’S FRY BREAD EMPORIUM.
Then the temperature dropped, and snow began to fall.
“Uh-oh,” said Lance.
The dancers stopped. They spoke to the crowd, and many people began to cry.
“This is bad,” said Lance. “The world is coming to an end.”
That wasn’t hard to believe. When Chris went back to his hotel, the TV news was full of war, drought, and crazy weather. The shows were about superheroes and serial killers; the commercials advertised medication for depression and erectile dysfunction. He went to bed and waited, wondering if he was a fool for expecting the clock to stop at midnight and never proceed further.
But he woke in the morning, and the birds were singing. He went to LANCE KABOTIE’S FRY BREAD EMPORIUM to get breakfast, and Lance was joking with customers, as usual.
“So,” Chris said, “the world didn’t end after all.”
“The old world ended at midnight,” said Lance. “The new world has begun. It’s going to be a lot drier, so I put tepary beans on your fry bread. That crop can take a lot of crazy weather.”
“Old world solutions to new world problems,” said Chris. “I like it.”
“Good to hear it.” Lance handed him his plate. “So — will that be cash or charge?”
Emily Devenport is author of the novels Shade, Larissa, Scorpianne, Eggheads, The Kronos Condition, Godheads, Broken Time, Belarus, and Enemies, as well as the recent ebooks The Night Shifters, Spirits of Glory, and Pale Lady. Her short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, the Full Spectrum anthology, Uncanny, Clarkesworld, and Aboriginal Science Fiction. Her work has been nominated for the Philip K. Dick and Boomerang Awards and her recent ebook, Spirits of Glory, tells a semi-apocalyptic story and can be found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers. To learn more about Emily Devenport and her writing, visit her website: www.emsjoiedeweird.com