She quickly rose to her feet and dusted off the straw. The small bits clung around the hem and stitching but she truly paid it no mind. If anything it added to the country simplicity of the dress. Her hair hung in a loose braid to the side; a simple white ribbon wound throughout and on her feet she wore nothing but a small ring on her toe. She had run barefoot most of her life much to the disdain of her Mother. She figured why start wearing them now all things considered. She opted for no make-up with the exception for a small amount of rouge on her cheeks which she had borrowed from her Mother's vanity table. She wouldn't miss it and even if she did it wouldn't really matter after tonight.
She took the stairs down from the loft 3 at a time as her heart raced inside of her chest. The rouge on her cheeks was quickly being overshadowed by the natural hue of blood pumping just under the skin. The smell of the barn was all around her now; old hay and sawdust dominated the air but subtle tones seeped through. Rain and pine. Smoke and ash. She knew that the barn had burned partially when she was barely old enough to walk and while she was too young to remember the fire itself she would never truly forget the panicked noises the animals made while trying to flee or the smell of charred wood that hung around the house and yard for days afterwards.
She pushed the memory out of head. Thomas was her focus now. It would be him and only him. They shared a connection that only two young people in love can truly achieve. They had never known the pleasures of the flesh, but just before Thomas had left early that summer, they shared a kiss that would solidify his place in her heart for the rest of her life. A moment so perfect and innocent that it seemed to freeze time. A moment that stopped the June Bugs from clicking and brought every firefly in the valley out to light their way home.
Thomas pushed through the last row of wheat and paused to wipe the chaff from his face. He pulled a small handkerchief from his pack pocket and absentmindedly wiped at his brow. The humidity this time of year clung to everything. It made the air heavy and thick and any form of physical activity; even something as simple as walking, became a chore in itself. But if Thomas was upset about the heat, all resemblance of annoyance melted from his face when he saw Suzanne waiting by the old barn door.
The sunlight was at a level where it started to cast shadows across the land. Soft light drifted through the slats of the barn and trickled across the beams of the roof and down onto the floor making every corner of the old place seem to breath for just a brief time. At one point, the light caught the edge of an old stained glass sun catcher tucked off to the side of the door. A million colours suddenly lashed out in all directions. Reds and blues shone in her hair as orange and purple trickled across her brow and cheeks. It gave her an ethereal quality; a glow like one would find streaming off of the Fae Folks had they really existed. The Fae were known to grant wishes in stories and if there were ever a story that needed a wish...it was this one. But Thomas knew that no amount of wishing would change the course of the evening. He took an extra moment to drink the scene in before he closed the last few steps between the two of them.
As is the case with many young lovers, the first few moments were awkward. Eye contact seemed difficult and blush-filled grins were all but impossible. There was an unspoken electricity in the air around them. They could feel the hair on their necks and arms raise ever so slightly. But whether it was their impending connection generating this pulse or the planet sending out early warning signs that something wasn't quite right, it truly didn't matter. Thomas's gaze left his feet and he breathed deeply before looking at her directly. She met his gaze equally and the smile faded from her lips. Thomas looked deeply saddened and it broke her heart to see him like this if even for only a moment.
"Thomas, what's wrong? Why are you so upset?"
Tears had begun to well up round his eyes. He fought to keep them in. He refused to cry in front of her. How was he supposed to tell this beautiful creature standing in front of him that he was terrified? How was he supposed tell her that he didn't want to die tonight? He was supposed to be the strong one. He was supposed to be able to protect her. He was raised to believe that if you truly love someone, you fight with everything thing you have to keep them safe...no matter what the cost. But what if what you were trying to accomplish wasn't humanly possible? Thomas didn't have a hope in Hell of keeping her safe. There was nowhere to run. Hiding wouldn't buy them any time either. All they could do was wait it out. Wait for the inevitable to happen. So Thomas did the only thing that was still within his control. Thomas lied. He lied with every ounce of his being in the hopes that she would believe him.
"I'm not upset Suzanne. I'm just so happy to see you again. It's just been so crazy these last few weeks....I was afraid I may not get back to you in time. I'm just really glad I did."
He hugged her quickly and tight so that she couldn't see the tears streaming down his face. Thomas thought to himself that this was when his childhood officially ended. In this exact moment when he lied to this girl in an act of pure love. 'Protect the girl' he thought. 'Even if you have to die a liar. I'll be judged for my entire story on the day of reckoning. Not just for this single chapter.'
They let each other go and stood quietly just holding each other's hands for a few extra moments. The sun was just kissing the horizon goodnight and the land was a deep amber hue with the first batch of stars poking through the black canvass. Tonight though, the stars looked different....off almost. Their colors seemed to bleed across the sky and if one were to look long and hard enough, one might swear that they were pulsing in unison. Painfully slow at first, but picking up speed at a rate that the naked eye would probably not be able to detect unaided. The universe was unwell and the poor dust mites known as the Human Race would soon come to know just how ill it truly was.
"I like your dress Suzanne. It's beautiful! But...how did you ever find the money to pay for it?" Thomas asked.
"It's Mama's" she said. "I had a chance to hem it a little before tonight. I knew she wouldn't miss it 'cause it 's been tucked in the back of her closet since she and Daddy got married."
"I couldn't get a suit. Not...not on such short notice that is. But I wore my Sunday shirt and pants. I hope that's ok?"
"Course it is." she said. "Doesn't matter what you're wearing as long as you're here. C'mon. It'll be time soon. We should get started."
It hadn't seemed that long ago that Suzanne had made up her mind to leave. She was 18 after all and no amount of praying would ever change the fact that her days on Earth were numbered. Double digits if they had counted right....single if they hadn't. She had been preparing for this night for the last several weeks now. Ever since the men and women on TV; the ones who used fancy terms like catastrophic and planet killer, began theorizing about what would happen.
For the most part, she largely ignored it. She didn't watch much TV and was kept busy most of the time with chores around the farm and errands around town. But after a week or so she began noticing things around town that seemed out of the ordinary. People that she had known her entire life were packing up and moving away without as much as a goodbye. The town itself seemed smaller each time she went into it. Not just because of the lack of people, but the entire feeling in the town had changed. People hurried past one another without making eye contact unless for the briefest of moments. Children no longer played in the park near the Post Office. Even the other teens had stopped hanging out around McGillicutty's creek after school. The town was becoming smaller and Suzanne was beginning to get worried. She wanted to call Thomas. To talk about life in general but mainly to ask him how things were where he was. But he was out of town for the summer working on his Uncle's farm.
One evening, while she was finishing up the dishes; as it was her night to do so, her Father quietly called her into the family room. From the tone in his voice, she knew something wasn't quite right. Her Father was sitting in his favourite chair as expected. Her Mother and little brother sat closely on the couch. Her Mom was squeezing her brother tightly and she could tell that she had been crying. The television was glowing softly in the background and although the sound was off, she could read the headlines and tickers flowing across the bottom of the screen. They all essentially said the same thing; Planet Fall. This was not a term she was familiar with but as she gazed at the images flickering across at breakneck speeds she could tell it wasn't good. Rioting in the streets, fires burning uncontrollably in major metropolitan cities and swarms of the faithful praying en mass to their respective deity. Some people were openly weeping while some walked across the camera's path with dazed grins permanently etched across their mouths.
"Suzanne!" her Father's voice snapped her back to reality. "Pay attention please!"
"Sorry Papa. I was just watching what was going on on the news. What's happening?!"
"Sit down darlin'. We need to talk."
Suzanne quietly moved to the couch beside her Mother and folded her hands in her lap. She looked up at her Father while her Mother gently stroked her hair. Her Father paced for a moment before opting to sit on the edge of his favourite chair across from them. He searched for the right words....failed.....and then took up the quest once again. He slowly began, weighing each word carefully.
"Something's happened. Well, more like is going to happen. It's hard to explain....truth is, I'm not sure if I could even if I was smart enough to."
He paused for a few more moments. Just when Suzanne thought he may not go on he cleared his throat and continued.
"Somewhere deep in space, a planet that none of us have heard of before died long before any of us even breathed our first breath on this rock. This planet died and because of where it was, or how close it was to other planets or whatever the case, it cause more 'explosions' and more planets died. Now, all these planets exploding released massive amounts of energy. Wave after wave of energy."
"What does that have to do with us Papa? Why is Momma crying?"
"Hush child. I'm getting there. Now, the people you see on T.V.; the scientists and whatnot have been watching this energy for quite some time. Over the last few years, they began to realize that this energy.....this wave was moving in the direction of our planet....gobbling up smaller planets and moons in its way. Well, not so much gobbling as dissolving them. Making them just disappear out of existence. These scientists tried to come up with different ways to stop this wave, or redirect it so that Earth would be safe. But even the smartest people on the planet don't always have all the answers. Man wasn't made to understand everything in the Universe. Sometimes the Universe just decides to set things right....in its opinion. So here we are. The day will be soon upon us when things just stop being. Can't outrun it. Can't hide from it. Just have to wait until it happens."
And with that, Suzanne's Father stood up and walked out of the room, through the kitchen and out into the yard. He sat silently crying on the porch. Although it was out of his control, he felt like he had failed as a Husband, as a Father and as a Man. But how does an ant protect the colony from the shoe of a child? Something's are outside of our control. This was one of those things.
The days crept along slowly after that night. Chores seemed pointless and life around the farm became somewhat of a still-life painting with images and people and animals all blending in to the background. Suzanne's parents became withdrawn and spent most of their time flipping through old photo albums. Her brother locked himself away in his room blasting angry music on his stereo. In a house full of people, she had never felt more alone. At night, she could hear her parents making love through the thin walls that separated their rooms and while it disturbed her to know her parents did such things, it was her Mother's soft weeping after the act that kept her awake most nights.
The news was keeping a countdown clock up on the screen day in and day out. At last estimate, there was just over a week left before the wave would overtake the planet and snuff out all matter. The big blue marble would simply cease to exist. All of our history, our innovation and our future opportunities would be vaporized without prejudice or a second glance. Suzanne still had trouble fathoming what was coming. How could a 18 year old possibly hope to understand these things when she barely knew what the next town outside of this one looked like. She had to get a hold of Thomas. If she was only going have a week left on this planet, she would spend it with him. A few desperate phone calls and a lot of whispered prayers later...and he was on his way home.
"Did you bring the book?" Suzanne asked. "Were you able to find the right words?"
"I got it. It took some time to find the page, but I think this should work well." Thomas replied.
The sun was all but gone below the hills and darkness had come to the farm. Suzanne worked quickly to light a few of the candles around the barn before it was too dark to see. The flames danced lazily and cast long, twisted shadows across the walls. Under normal circumstances, the barn might seem eerie and off putting but tonight, it was filled with a sense of anticipation. Both occupants knew that life would be fundamentally different tonight regardless of the outcome of the next few minutes.
Thomas brushed off the little table and set one of the candles down so he could see the text. The Bible was old and weathered. The cover had been bent and folded and bruised a countless number of times by a countless number of his relatives. This had been the family's book. It was special and was only to be used in special situations. Thomas couldn't think of anything more special than this. The book mark that held his place had once been a deep, vibrant red. The kind only seen in rare books or expensive linens. Time and use had reduced it to little more than a fine series of blush threads. Thomas couldn't help but turn his thoughts to the impending wave. He wondered if his body would be stripped away thread by thread; much like the way this book mark had been. In reality, it really wouldn't matter because unlike the book mark and the book it was attached to, there would be nothing left to compare and no one left to do the comparing. Thomas pushed ahead and began to read.
"1 Corinthians 13:4-13 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but...." Thomas trailed off.
"What is it? Go on Thomas....I like that passage." Suzanne said.
"It just doesn't seem right. I mean...that's not right. I mean that THIS; right here and right now is so very right! But this passage doesn't do it justice. Not with everything about to change." Thomas furled his brow in frustration. Suzanne moved closer to him and gently took the book from his fingers. She quickly flipped through the worn pages; her eyes darting across the words, straining in the candlelight. Suddenly her face lightened and her eyes slowed.
"This one. This is the one I want you to read."
She handed the book back to Thomas who accepted it with a tiny smile on his face. As always, she amazed him. Even at the end of the world, she could still find time to make him smile. Thomas cleared his throat and began again.
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me."
He looked up from the pages and met her eyes. For a moment, neither one of them said anything. Thomas reached into his pocket and gently pulled out the ring. It was a thing of great beauty for it was hand crafted and etched with the precision of skilled hands much older than the maker they belonged to. A simple wooden ring that had started as a branch from an ancient oak down by the creek. It had taken Thomas weeks to whittle, shape, smooth and carve out the perfect shape. The carvings snaked in and out of the band with immaculate accuracy and running deeper around the outer edge of the band was a fine ring of silver which Thomas had melted down and painstakingly poured into the ridges. The ring would be overlooked by the wealthy but coveted by the paupers had the opportunity arose, as it truly was a labour of love. He took her hand and dropped to one knee. The ring slid effortlessly over her finger and held true. She pulled him gently to his feet and then whispered into his ear
An unnatural quiet had fallen over the farm. The animals were no longer rustling in their stalls, the insects had ceased their incessant chirping and the wind had all but died away. The night was silent save the heartbeat of two young lovers tucked away in the loft of an old red-sided barn. Their breathing in unison, their bodies entangled in a flurry of sheets and hay and careless abandon. The candles burned low now and the wax had wept all across the table and floor. They whispered soft, hollow promises to one another. They talked about children, and travelling and growing old together. They made plans for a big pancake breakfast the next morning with fresh orange juice and strawberries from the fields out back. They lay with one another late into the darkness and kept watch of the night sky through a hole in the barn's roof. As the conversation slid deeper into broken words and sleep laden fragments, the stars around them begin to blink out. Suzanne was none the wiser, sleep claiming her long before Thomas.
The first pulse washed over the farm in a flash of cold blue light. The trees rustled but no more so than if a strong breeze had made its presence known. Thomas prayed quietly that she would not wake up, that she wouldn't see the end. Whatever divine presence was still left on the Godforsaken world, it must have taken notice. The second and third pulse hit in tandem and so close to one another that Thomas almost thought they were the same one. With each pulse, there came a soft hum as it passed over. As the pulses came more frequently and faster, the hum grew louder and didn't fade away. The hum seemed to be everywhere and Thomas noticed that he could feel it in his toes. It was a mild tingling sensation that could be likened to pins and needles, but not the kind that one would find unpleasant.
The waves were now indiscernible and all bled into one another. Thomas lay beside Suzanne as the numbness slowly climbed across his naked frame. He imagined that if he were to pull the blankets back that he would no longer see his toes, feet and much of his legs. It was better to keep the blanket in place lest he panic, and that would serve no purpose in the long run. He stared at Suzanne breathing gently in the darkness beside him. He looked over the curve of her face and the way her hair fell softly across her neck. The girl, who became his love and then became his wife would never truly know how much he loved her.
The tingling intensified and moved more rapidly across his body. Thomas noticed the sheet losing form as the body that it kept covered lost its corporeal form. He began to breath quicker as he fought to maintain his composure. He had begun to cry now; silently as he refused to allow her to wake to this nightmare. What was waiting for him on the other side of the veil? Solace? Peace or emptiness. Whatever the universe held in store for the poor inhabitants of this world, Thomas knew that he would not go gentle into that dark night....and he would not go alone.
Suzanne stirred beside him and in one panicked moment he feared she would snap awake and scream until there was no longer a mouth for her to scream with. He lifted his hand and hovered just over her mouth. He would make it quick if it came to that, to spare her the horror of the alternative. But instead, she nestled closer into his neck and quietly whispered
"It's cold Thomas." The buzz filled his ears and rattled his teeth. Thomas took a deep final breath and then the world went dark. And with that, the species known as the human race; a species so young in its infancy, so full of promise and opportunity and misgivings blinked out of existence. As quickly as they had passed over the planet, the waves now floated silently into the vast expanses of space leaving only emptiness in its wake.
But the Universe has a funny way of acting as a great equalizer. Planets and Solar Systems and Civilizations are created and destroyed in a blink of an eye with neither regard or bias or worry and the Earth is no exception to the rules that govern the Universe. As Stephen Hawking once said "We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special."
While love may not always conquer all, it does have a way of being down-right stubborn until it gets what it wants. And the story of Thomas and Suzanne is if nothing else an exercise in love. Who are we to truly say that we understand all that the Universe is and all that it has to offer? For in the end, it is not our Science or our Religion that will right the wrongs. It is the simple love between two people that will defy the cosmos and will make the Universe realize the error of its ways.
......And the Voice whispered "To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders." And in the quiet void that followed, Suzanne and Thomas opened their new eyes.......and smiled.