Arianna, 27, Female
- Daughter of Will
- 5’3, 130lbs, beige skin, long black hair
Will, 47, Male
- Father of Arianna
Author’s note: This short story draws inspiration from the plot of the movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. But, of course, the idea gets the Chase Shivers treatment in that which follows.
If you knew the world was ending tomorrow, what would you do with the time left to you?
Where would you go?
What would you do?
Who would be the people you’d want to see one last time?
These were questions I never believed I would ever face in my life. The world, imperfect as it may have been, was everlasting. Eternal. Whatever challenges we faced, the next day would provide a fresh chance to look at things anew. An opportunity to fix problems, to take advantage of opportunities, to know love and loss and emotions so weighty you felt the Earth shift under your feet.
One more moment where you could change the world.
On the afternoon of June 21, 2021, all across the Earth, television and radio stations yielded control to emergency broadcast networks. Presidents and queens and Prime Ministers gave rushed press conferences in tones which frightened the listeners. Worse, the words each spoke tore into all of us with a sudden, sickening force unlike any ever felt before.
Earth was in the direct path of an object hurtling through space at incredible speeds. Something massive enough to cause life as we know it to change forever. It moved so fast that scientists had only just detected it a little over twenty-four hours earlier, alerting heads of states across the world of the impending disaster. It was a sure hit. The devastation would be total. Most human beings would be killed instantly, the rest would die within hours of the collision expected just after seven in the morning in London, three o’clock in New York City, midnight in LA.
That gut-wrenching announcement, made nearly simultaneously in hundreds of languages and locales, tore through me as it did everyone else.
Shock is a difficult sensation to describe. You feel a distance from reality, as if watching through different eyes and hearing with someone else’ ears. Routine thoughts feel weightless and without depth. Colorless. Pointless.
I’d experienced shock before, though nothing on this level. When I opened a letter from an attorney noting that my wife had unexpectedly filed for divorce, it was a shock. But, then, I had tomorrow, and the next day, and so on. I recovered, I had a future to look forward to living through, possibilities for the rest of my life.
And I had my daughter, Arianna, who was seven at the time. My wife Janice and I fought for custody, but she won out, and I spent little time with Arianna over the next few years. I was bitter about that, but distance and my job and my ex-wife’s distaste for me made it difficult to see my daughter.
Arianna had recently divorced and moved back to live in Miami, where I call home. At twenty-seven, she held down a great job at a tech firm and visited me regularly since her return.
Maybe it was the way we spent little time together while she grew up. Maybe I had some deep desires that I didn’t recognize until recently. Whatever it was, I couldn’t stop fantasizing about Arianna.
She was short, around five-three, well proportioned, rounded hips, modest breasts, narrow thighs. She had her mom’s Jewish nose and sleek black hair, her skin beige with sparse dark freckles. The scent of her neck, of her hair, filled me with lust like I’d never felt before. The touch of her warm fingers on my arm, the sound of her generous laughter, those sensations became the reasons I got up every morning.
Arianna smiled easily and her eyes danced with joy each time she saw me. Every hug between us made me feel more and more aware that my daughter was an attractive woman, and each night we were apart, I found myself masturbating to fantasies of making love with her.
I never told her any of this, of course. It was becoming an obsession, but one I held in my own mind, and in my own bedroom. I savored every sight and scent and touch of her, but I never let on that they meant more to me than they should.
The afternoon when I found out the world was ending, I was at a coffee shop downtown on a lunch break. Like everyone in the place, the sudden breaking coverage of the President’s press conference stunned me. Some people rushed out, others made hurried, frantic phone calls. Some cried. Others just stared at the screen, unable to process the implications.
I was one of the latter. I felt overwhelmed like never before. This couldn’t be real. Wake up, Will, I told myself, this is all a bad dream. Just fucking wake up!
When I was able to feel the weight of that moment crashing in, some minutes later, I dropped to my knees and looked at the floor. The one clear thought I had was of Arianna. Oh, God ... She’s going to die! My own death never really registered. Only my daughter’s. I was crushed by the understanding. The whole universe would be mourning her loss.
My phone was in my hand, but the cell towers were jammed. I couldn’t make a call to her. I rushed down the street. I’d walked to work that morning, I had no vehicle to drive the almost three miles to her house. Cars were flying by chaotically, none stopped when I tried to flag them down. People were collapsed on sidewalks, crying, some huddled together, others alone. I didn’t want Arianna to die alone!
I ran. I never felt the ache in my knees or the burning in my chest like when I occasionally got a wild hair to run a mile or two. I had a single purpose. A mission. I had to find Arianna so that she wouldn’t die alone.
I never considered that she would likely be at work. Her house was empty, her car not in the garage. I tried calling Arianna’s cell from the land line in her house, but it never connected. I panicked, unable to remember where she worked, flailing around inside her home, opening doors, calling her name, as if merely asking for her would cause Arianna to appear.
My cell rang and I hit the button immediately. “Arianna?!”
“Dad! Oh, God! Where are you?!”
“At your place!”
“I’ll be there in five minutes. I can’t believe this, I just—”
The call dropped and my heart was in my throat.
I paced around outside the front door. There was some traffic on the road, but otherwise, I saw no one around. Were people panicking like I was? I felt sure they were.
It was panic without a point. Nothing anyone did would change what was to come, a cataclysm so unbelievable that I still couldn’t accept the reality of it. It felt odd to see a plane fly overhead on the way to the Miami airport. Did those people know? Surely they did. How awful it must be to be confined in the air, unable to pace and run and scream and look for loved ones.
Arianna’s car rushed up suddenly and she was in my arms seconds later, crying, her eyes red, her hair tangled over her shoulders. I held her as tightly as I’d ever done, sobbing with her.
We collapsed back on the porch steps, tears drying only because we had so few left to spare, Arianna’s arms around me, her face buried against my neck. “What do we do?” she moaned.
“I don’t know ... I don’t know...”
“Dad ... this is awful!”
I stroked Arianna’s hair, my stomach turning over with grief and heartbreak. “At least we’re together at the end of all things...”
Her arms tightened around me and I leaned my cheek on the top of her head.
“I love you so much, Dad ... I love you so much...”
“And I love you, Arianna ... Always and forever, no matter what happens.”
What do you do with the time you have left?
When you know the time and place you will check out and never return? Sitting on those porch steps as the sun dipped lower, I had no real answers. It was surreal. My mind simply couldn’t process the implications. How could the sun not warm the next morning for me? How could my daily meetings with colleagues forever be canceled? How would I never know the lovely touch of a woman again? No answers were forthcoming, and I sat, numb, holding Arianna until well after the sun went down.
There had been many cars moving in the early evening, but those were largely absent by nightfall. The city still held the muted hush of so many air conditioners and exhaust systems and a thousand other autonomous machines which had no ability to see the future and know fear. Electrons flowed as they always had, and the devices responding to impulses continued to pump and spin and charge as they always did.
“Dad?” Arianna said against my shoulder, her voice low and weary.
“Why didn’t you remarry? After Mom...”
“I dunno,” I replied, holding Arianna’s waist, “I guess I never met anyone I cared to commit my life to since then.”
Arianna sat up slightly, hunched, her shoulders drooping with a weight of ages. “I always wanted you to. I thought you might like to be with someone again...”
“I dated ... a few women over the years. Nothing terribly serious.”
“Don’t you wish you had someone to be with you right now? Someone you loved?”
I smiled despite my heartache. “I am with someone I love.”
“You know what I mean...”
“Yes, I do. But ... there’s no one in the world I love more than you, Arianna. Even if I’d have met someone, gotten married again, that would not have changed.”
“Oh ... Dad,” she groaned as she leaned into me again.
“I wish you had someone like that, too, you know ... someone you love to be with you in the end...”
“I do ... I have you...”
“You know what I mean,” I said, a small chuckle added from repeating her words.