END TIMES • by Ann M. Pino

Lena walked barefoot on the hard-packed sand, avoiding the sharp shells and wet mounds of seaweed. This was the best time for brooding–early, before too many people were around. Except for the occasional gull, she was alone; free to ponder the disappointments of her short life.

At first she didn’t see the young man on the jetty, but as she came near, he called down to her.

“Pretty day.”

“Yes.”

“Kind of a shame.”

She had planned to keep walking, but now she stopped and squinted at him. “Why is it a shame?”

He jumped down with the lithe grace of a cat. “Because today is the last day. End of the world.”

Lena gave him a skeptical look. He didn’t look crazy. In fact, he was rather nice-looking, with shoulder-length brown hair and serious gray eyes. “How do you figure?”

“It’s in all the papers. Didn’t you see?” Without waiting for Lena to answer, he gave a jerk of his chin. “Which way were you going? I’ll keep you company.

“I don’t want company. Who are you, anyway?”

“Brandon Alexander. Or Alexander Brandon. Either one is fine.”

Lena brushed her hair out of her eyes. “You talk crazy, and I don’t want to hang around a crazy person. My life already sucks.” She started walking.

Brandon tagged after her. “In that case, what’s the harm?” When she didn’t answer, he added, “Want to see some horseshoe crabs?”

“I don’t like crabs.”

“Want to build a sand castle?”

“Sand castles are for kids.”

“At the next jetty there’s some stairs to the street. There’s a diner up there. We could get some coffee.”

“No.”

“Why not? Today’s the last day. Let’s enjoy the apocalypse together.”

Lena shoved her hands in her pockets. “Okay. One cup of coffee. And a newspaper. I want to read about this apocalypse.”

Of course when they got to the diner, the only newspaper they could find made no mention of the end of the world. But the coffee was good and they shared a waffle as they pored over the other news of the day, speculating on whether the apocalypse would be a good or bad ending for each of the stories.

“He won’t have to go to jail.”

“But she’ll never get justice.”

“They won’t have to pay taxes.”

“But they’ll never take that trip to Indonesia.”

After they finished breakfast, they went back to the beach and walked along one of the jetties. They stopped to chat with a fisherman, then discussed him as they sat on the rocks with the salt spray wetting their skin.

“He’ll never get to eat those fish. They died for nothing.”

“But think of all the others who will be spared.”

“No, the apocalypse will take everything.”

“Even the fish?”

“End times are cruel.”

They walked the beach, filling their pockets with interesting bits of driftwood and pebbles worn smooth by the waves. They befriended a dog but didn’t mind when it ran away. Nothing was your own on the day the world would end.

As the beach filled with people, they stopped to examine a tidal pool. They bought cold drinks and lounged under a colorful umbrella while its owner splashed in the surf. In heat of the afternoon they bought ice cream cones and ate them on a dock, swinging their legs and discussing which flavors they would miss most when the world expired in flames.

Finally Brandon talked her into building a sand castle and they decorated it with seaweed and pale chips of shells.

As the sun went down and the sky turned golden, Lena frowned. “It’s getting late.”

He grabbed her hand. “I’m having a nice time. Aren’t you?”

“Yeah, but I need to go. I’ve got a real life. I hate it, but–”

“Then why bother? I already told you there’s not going to be a tomorrow.”

She shook her head. “This has been a cute game, but the world isn’t really going to end.”

“Maybe not.” He pulled her close and kissed her as the sun set in an explosion of fiery sky and smoking clouds. In the growing darkness, a few faint stars winked their ancient light. “Stay with me anyway,” he said. “Why should anything be the same after today?”


Ann M. Pino is a writer of flash and novel-length speculative fiction, although she sometimes also writes contemporary and historical pieces. She works as a university administrator and her hobbies include endurance sports and cooking, in addition to writing and occasional art projects. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, cat, and rabbit.

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