By Juliana Hall
The end of the world is quiet. She used to think it would be all fire and brimstone; hell raining down upon them, buildings collapsing, the ground splitting into two and swallowing whole cities and countries.
She didn’t think the end of the world would feel this…peaceful.
The grass tickles her palms when she runs her hands over it, soft strands slipping between her fingers and urging her to stay, for just one more minute. She rips a few of them up and lets them fall back down among the masses. Forgotten, abandoned. Like she will be.
Waves crash below her, against the rocks and the craggy cliff face, sparkling with the magic that a warm summer sun brings. It almost looks inviting, though she knows below the clear blue illusion is the truth of the end of the world: sharp jagged points, endless brown sludge, a misleading depth of water that is actually so much shallower than it appears to be from here.
She tosses a couple strands of grass over the cliff. They don’t go very far—one sticks to her hand, the other falls to her thigh—and she wonders if she would resist the momentum like that too. Maybe there’s a force field there, propelling the little grass pieces back to their home. Where would she propel back to? Certainly not here.
Her feet swing against the open air, heels banging against the rocks, bouncing forward with each hit. Pink sneaker, then green, then pink again. If it’s the end of the world, she can wear whatever she wants, they don’t have to match.
The laces on the green sneaker are untied and she contemplates using the rock to kick it off of her; let it fall onto the rocks and disappear beneath the waves.
She pulls her legs back and pushes to her feet, stepping forward until her toes rest at the very edge of the rock. Just one step forward would unbalance her, send all of her—not just the green sneaker—tumbling down down down. Would her splash be grand? Or would the rocks hit her first, shattering her bones and cracking her head open to let the slimy red within mix with the deceivingly blue water?
The green sneaker lifts but she does not step forward. She dangles it over the edge, uses the point of the cliff to wiggle it off and let it fall to the water. It splashes. No rocks stopped it. There’s a small green blob down there now, bobbing back and forth with the waves until it sinks briefly on a particularly sharp undertow and then reemerges to continue its journey.
Her foot is still hovering over the open air, pristine white sock a stark image against the blue of the water and the green of the grass. It’s the end of the world, maybe she should have worn better socks than boring Target brand white.
Just as she closes her eyes and prepares to tip herself forward, she hears the voice.
“Are you alright?”
Her eyes slam open and the sun greets her—too cheerily she thinks but maybe it’s actually angry, trying to burn into her skin—before she turns around. The man there is a little older than her and there’s a baby in a bright pink floppy hat strapped to his chest.
“Do you want me to call someone for you?” His voice is kind and he holds a hand over his eyes as he squints at her through the blinding sun.
“No, I just lost my shoe.” She puts her foot down on the grass. Maybe the bottom of her sock will be green like her sneaker now. She points over the edge of the cliff.
One hand on the baby’s head, the man steps closer and then leans a little further forward. She looks with him; the shoe is just barely there now, floating along just below the surface of the water and out to sea.
“It didn’t match anyway,” she says when he’s quiet for a little too long. Her face is wet and when she touches a finger to it, she realizes there are tears slowly rolling down her face. The man rummages in his pockets and hands her a crumpled napkin.
“I might have some extra flip-flops in my car,” he offers once she’s used the scratchy paper to wipe the tears away. The sun doesn’t feel angry against her skin anymore, just warm. “It’s just a lost shoe, not the end of the world.”
* * *
Juliana Hall is a writer currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English from Clark University. When she’s not putting characters through tough situations, she can be found drinking iced coffee and going on car rides to scream along to musical theater songs.