AT APOCALYPSE’S EDGE • by Rebecca Birch

I’ve chosen sugar cookies for Jackson’s scent reminder. Most people chose something from nature. Pine trees. Roses. The petrichor aroma after rain. But Jackson told me the smell of baking sugar cookies meant home.

Lying there in his stasis pod, sandy lashes shading his cheeks, he looks younger than his ten years. Finally old enough to join the baseball league with his cousin Benji. I pull the worn glove that had been my grandfather’s out of my handbag and lift his limp hand, tucking the leather underneath.

“Take care of this,” I say, trying to keep the tremor out of my voice. “I’m sorry you didn’t get more time to use it.”

My chest constricts. There should be better words at a time like this. I’ve built a life out of giving speeches, but without the writers, faced with my most important audience, I have nothing.

The technician hovering behind me clears her throat. “Madam President, it’s time.”

I squeeze Jackson’s fingers one last time, then release his hand and gesture for the technician to close the pod. There’s a hiss and, just before the metal and plasticene edges meet, a strong whiff of vanilla and cinnamon.

I look away. I don’t want my last memory of Jackson—my late-life miracle—to be of him trapped behind the frosted viewscreen. This way I can pretend he’s just fallen asleep, clinging to his beloved glove, waiting to play with his cousin when he wakes.

But Benji won’t be there.

Blinking away tears, I turn to the technician and shake her hand. “Good luck to you,” I say. “Thank you for your service.”

“I’ll take care of them, Ma’am.” There’s pride in the subtle lift of her chin. “Don’t you worry.”

I nod, unable to find any other words, and leave my son behind, barely aware of the rows upon rows of silver-white pods stretching away until they become clouds floating in a sea of institutional gray.

My bodyguard shepherds me from the Arkadia and into the waiting car. We drive past the security fences and military vehicles guarding the perimeter. If not for the black hole of fear and guilt eating me inside out, I’d enjoy the bright Florida morning. Blue sky so serene I should be able to skip rocks on it.

But the rocks that are coming aren’t going to skip.

The nuclear option failed. Ours broke a chunk off the massive asteroid’s side, but either piece alone is still enough to devastate the Earth. India and the ESA hit, but failed to do anything more than irradiate the target. China missed entirely.

We enter the command center over Bunker-1.  “Status, General?”

“Western seaboard escape ships have launched. All the rest are prepped for launch. Every bunker is sealed, save ours. There’ve been riots, Ma’am. Casualties.”

“There’ll be more.” My nails dig into my palms. “I should’ve pushed the ark initiative harder. The Earth shouldn’t be the damn Titanic.”

When my sister Sharon’s family hadn’t been called in the lottery, not for an ark or even a bunker, she’d shown up at the White House in hysterics. Not for herself or Nathaniel. For Benji. I was the president. I had to have strings I could pull.

Maybe I did, but if I manipulated the lottery and word got out, my credibility would shred faster than a flag in a hurricane. The majority of the populace stood behind the ark program—better a chance to save some than to lose everyone—but fear and anger roiled just below the surface. Saving Benji could be the spark that lit the inferno. The arks were well-guarded, but if enough people stormed them—if the soldiers couldn’t bring themselves to fire on their fellow countrymen—

Sharon cursed me until no tears were left, only bloodshot eyes I’ll never unsee. That night, I downed the vodka the Russian president had given me six years before to celebrate my first inauguration. It wasn’t enough. Nothing will ever be enough.

“Madam President, you need to get below,” the General says.

“Not until those ships launch. And get me on the vids.”

The Presidential Seal hangs on a bare concrete wall, a stalwart bastion of color in a world gone gray. I stand in front of the seal and try to match its strength, though I feel as threadbare as a sheet of gauze.

“My fellow Americans,” I say, “we stand today at the edge of apocalypse. Some call this God’s will. Others call it His vengeance, or the cold hand of chance. All I know is this—our true selves are revealed when we are tested.”

The launch countdown flashes on the wall.  7-6-5-

“Humanity has a chance to survive if we stand together. A plan is in place.” The vids are broadcasting both inside the bunkers and surface-side. Maybe Sharon can see it. I hope she doesn’t. My face shouldn’t be one of the last things she sees.

-2-1-0

The Arkadia lifts skyward, rockets trailing flame.

Godspeed, Jackson.

I blink away the tears that threaten to spill. The ark ships, in their carefully plotted orbits, will be safe, but those of us remaining may not survive the impacts—not even those of us in the bunkers. If we do, it will be centuries before humanity’s remnants, both above and below, can safely return to the Earth’s surface.

I must show no weakness.  This will be my legacy, for good or ill.

“My fellow Americans, your courage is an example to humanity now and in the uncertain years ahead. I’m honored to have lived among you.”

Sharon’s and Benji’s faces swim across my vision. My voice trembles. “The sacrifices made today will never be forgotten.”

The general beckons with a curt gesture.

For a moment, I think I catch the scent of sugar cookies and the residual tang of old leather. I pull back my shoulders and draw in a deep breath. It’s time.

“I’ll see you on the other side.”


Rebecca Birch is a science fiction and fantasy writer based in Seattle, Washington, where she lives with her husband and teenage son. She doesn’t love coffee, but does spend time writing at Starbucks. She’s a classically trained soprano, holds a deputy black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and enjoys spending time in the company of trees. Her fiction has appeared in markets including Nature, Cricket, and Flash Fiction Online. She has also been a finalist in the Writers of the Future contest.


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 average 4 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • I’m a sucker for a good end-of-the-world story, and this one is really well done–sentimental enough to tug at the heart strings, but not so much that it rolls over into melodrama. The bit about the scent reminder is a nice touch. Thanks for sharing.

  • I’m a sucker for a good end-of-the-world story, and this one is really well done–sentimental enough to tug at the heart strings, but not so much that it rolls over into melodrama. The bit about the scent reminder is a nice touch. Thanks for sharing.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Surely the general populace would have cried foul and run riot at the President’s son being one of the ‘lucky’ lottery winners? That apart, a well imagined and well-written apocalypse.

    • MPmcgurty

      I also had that thought about the son being able to go, but I think it’s because the immediate presidential family could go, but she’s staying behind to serve as an example to her nation.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Surely the general populace would have cried foul and run riot at the President’s son being one of the ‘lucky’ lottery winners and the President herself making the cut for the bunkers? That aside, a well imagined and well-written apocalypse, much in the vein of Deep Impact.

    • MPmcgurty

      I also had that thought about the son being able to go, but I think it’s because the immediate presidential family could go, but she’s staying behind to serve as an example to her nation.

  • joanna b.

    i thought this story was terrific. excellent plot, excellent writing. that thought crossed my mind, Paul A. Freeman, how come the President and family gets the perks. but it does seem realistic to me because i believe that’s the plan here and most people accept it. in the story, one of the appealing things is that the President didn’t choose to be hidden away safely; she stayed courageously until the end.

  • joanna b.

    i thought this story was terrific. excellent plot, excellent writing. that thought crossed my mind, Paul A. Freeman, how come the President and family gets the perks. but it does seem realistic to me because i believe that’s the plan here and most people accept it. in the story, one of the appealing things is that the President didn’t choose to be hidden away safely; she stayed courageously until the end.

  • Great story. Felt longer than 1k words, (I mean that in a good way.)
    I’m always extra thrilled when I see so much sensory input in flash. So often it’s neglected to cram a full story into 1k, and maybe those stories need every word of plot, but by making sensory part of the plot, the whole story is richer.
    Well done.

  • Great story. Felt longer than 1k words, (I mean that in a good way.)
    I’m always extra thrilled when I see so much sensory input in flash. So often it’s neglected to cram a full story into 1k, and maybe those stories need every word of plot, but by making sensory part of the plot, the whole story is richer.
    Well done.

  • monksunkadan

    Great way to start my day. Rebecca , you did it all. Thanks. P.S. There is a nice piece of Flash at DSF. another view of Dystopia.

  • monksunkadan

    Great way to start my day. Rebecca , you did it all. Thanks. P.S. There is a nice piece of Flash at DSF. another view of Dystopia.

  • Isabella Mori

    this story has everything – great prose, an interesting story, strong characters, emotion. a textbook piece!

  • Isabella Mori

    this story has everything – great prose, an interesting story, strong characters, emotion. a textbook piece!

  • Chinwillow

    Well done! Enjoyed! 5 stars from me

  • Chinwillow

    Well done! Enjoyed! 5 stars from me

  • Gerald_Warfield

    Absolutely beautiful story. I had to read it twice to make sure that she hadn’t, in fact, manipulated the lottery. I didn’t care for the last line. Would have been nice to have more details, but then, good flash usually makes you wish for more. Nice job.

  • Gerald_Warfield

    Absolutely beautiful story. I had to read it twice to make sure that she hadn’t, in fact, manipulated the lottery. I didn’t care for the last line. Would have been nice to have more details, but then, good flash usually makes you wish for more. Nice job.

  • Very well done. Thanks for sharing.

  • Very well done. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kendall Furlong

    Very good. There are a lot of apocalypse stories out there, but few as well told. Great job.

  • Kendall Furlong

    Very good. There are a lot of apocalypse stories out there, but few as well told. Great job.

  • MPmcgurty

    Beautifully done. A couple of favorite lines: “Blue sky so serene I should be able to skip rocks on it. But the rocks that are coming…” and “silver-white pods stretching away until they become clouds floating in a sea of institutional gray”.

  • MPmcgurty

    Beautifully done. A couple of favorite lines: “Blue sky so serene I should be able to skip rocks on it. But the rocks that are coming…” and “silver-white pods stretching away until they become clouds floating in a sea of institutional gray”.

  • Rebecca Birch

    Thanks so much everyone for reading and commenting. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  • Rebecca Birch

    Thanks so much everyone for reading and commenting. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  • Dale Carothers

    A lovely story. Simple, with an emotional impactm

  • Dale Carothers

    A lovely story. Simple, with an emotional impactm