An Apocalypse in Seven Stages

Helen McClory
  1. Your friend tells you over the phone. She wants you to know what you are facing. You take the knowledge from her calmly, like accepting a small white box. The weight of knowing balances in your hands.

  2. You had, you find, somehow expected this information. The world hinting at it all along. A vile sharpness to the edge of knives; the spumes of deep thermal vents; the lies that seep out of people, always tipping towards slight, almost unnoticeable, uncontrolled disaster. But you hadn’t thought the end would be in practice quite so—banal. A group of flies tie knots of flight through the fields, and you, at watch, find nothing to do with your hands.

  3. It wasn’t that you think this world is perfect, nor one you have possession over. Just that it is one you love; you were not naïve, no matter what the beach sand told you, clinging suggestively between your legs, no matter the way the trees swayed and put out flowers like you were a brand-new bee. You only knew, know, that you love this world, for what it is, and now it is ending.

  4. There may be other worlds—who knows such things? You consider eventualities. Broken worlds, trailing tails of vapour and dust, new worlds uncharted; stagnant ditches, handsome fauna pendulous in amber, brilliant azure sands. You think, but none of these are this world. You think about thumping yourself, beating your chest like the Ancient Greeks did, or standing in a street proclaiming. Mourning rites and cries of warning are as easily performed, made duplicate internally as hypotheticals, as planets, death, springs. You write it out to make it easier. Clear your throat. The world is ending. Repent sinners! (It’s almost joyous to be this bleak).

  5. You talk to the world; the world says interesting, confusing things, like it always does, in its lovely voice. A city in China is completed today, and no one will live in it. A group of volcanoes is discussing which ones will send out a little ash as gentle rebuke. Almost all that we have ever done as a species has caused harm to the earth and ourselves. Nothing special, everything so.

  6. The end comes, you think. You must live out your days like it has and hasn’t, or go mad. You wash, and in the shower you feel a terrible pain as if from far away, in someone else’s body. You prod your fingertips into your breasts and wait. Behind the layers of skin, veins, muscle, bone, another world is beating just as steadily as ever, though it too is going, gone. You try not to make it your fault. It is any world’s right to choose this. It is any world’s right to be undiscovered, to unbecome. You bundle up your hair, and smile.

  7. Now you go outside and lie down dripping wet. You are nowhere. There is nowhere. Whatever happens next you must love as much as you can.

Helen McClory's first story collection, On the Edges of Vision, won the Saltire First Book of the Year 2015. Her second story collection, Mayhem & Death, was written for the lonely and published in March 2018. There is a moor and a cold sea in her heart. Find her on Twitter @HelenMcClory.