last night of the world


lovers talk on a pier at the end of the world.

this story, in its original incarnation, made my professor cry multiple times— maybe have tissues handy?

The last night of the world was quiet. After months of chaos, it was almost blissful. No more wail of sirens, no more shattering of glass, no more gunshots.

Aster and Cassia drove down the empty highway as the sun dipped below the horizon. Soon, it was dark, the black sky illuminated only by the dim red glow of the city that burned in the distance, and by the handful of stars in the sky that had not yet gone out.

Eventually, they could see the shadows of the trees ahead of them give way to a deeper black, and they knew they were close to the lake. They left the highway and drove along the coast, past fancy waterside houses that sat boarded up, their windows dark and quiet. They parked the car in the lot by the custard shop.

Wordlessly, they got out, leaving everything they had packed behind. It was risky— it wouldn't be hard for a looter to break a window, but they hadn't seen anyone else around. They had the sense that even if their belongings were stolen, it wouldn't matter much.

The two made their way across the street, through the little park by the lakeside to the boardwalk. Aster didn't know what they expected to see when the lake came into view. Something outrageous, for sure— perhaps fire burning on the surface of the water, turning the night sky red and orange in a pale imitation of the sunset. This apocalypse certainly seemed to enjoy fire.

They weren't expecting the lake to be so utterly normal. There was no fire, no debris or corpses strewn along the beach, just dark waves from the shore to the horizon. The long pier was still there, with its lighthouse at the end that had ceased to function well before the world started ending. The only movement anywhere was the waves, gently tugging on the sand. Besides Cassia, Aster was completely alone. It suddenly occurred to them that they might be the last two people alive.

"So this is it," Aster said softly.

"Want to walk down the pier, for old times' sake?" Cassia asked.

Aster simply nodded, and took her hand in theirs. As they walked, Aster looked up. The sky had been slowly emptying of stars, and they could only see three— Vega, Altair, and Deneb, three bright stars forming a triangle in the sky. It was harder to tell which was which without their accompanying constellations, but the pattern was familiar all the same.

"The Summer Triangle," Aster said, pointing upwards. "It's like our first date. Remember?"

"Yeah, I remember. I remember you spilled your custard all down your shirt—"


"— and even though the wasps were after you for most of the evening, you still stayed and stargazed with me until the park closed," Cassia said. "I was like, wow— that is commitment right there."

Aster laughed. "It's been five years— guess I must have done something right."

"There are the volleyball courts," Cassia said, pointing to the nets on the beach, waving slightly in the breeze.

"I remember you helping that one kid build a sandcastle while her parents were playing volleyball. It was very cute... I hope she's okay," Aster said.

"I don't want to think about it," said Cassia, looking away.

They walked in silence for a while. They reached the end of the boardwalk, and started walking down the concrete pier. Aster looked up at the sky again. Three stars, still burning away. They wondered what would happen when the sky was fully dark.

Halfway down the pier, Aster spoke again.

"Cassia..." they asked, "your life. Do you think it was meaningful?"

"You say that like it's about to end," she said crossly. Aster stopped walking then, as she turned around to face them.

"I don't mean to upset you," they said gently. "I really don't. But you have to be real. We haven't seen anyone since last night— anyone alive, anyways. Everything's been so quiet— we might be the last two people alive."

"Look at the sky," they continued, pointing to the stars above them. "There's only three stars. We can't have long left."

As the two of them looked up, one of the stars flickered and went dark before their eyes. Cassia burst into tears, and Aster hugged her close. They held her for a while, until she shakily spoke again.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be, it's perfectly understandable," Aster said.

"It's just... I was holding out hope that we could stop it somehow. We can't, can we? I think I finally see that now."

"If we could, I think we would have done it long ago. No one even figured out what it was— none of it makes any sense."

Cassia sniffled. "I didn't answer your question."

"You don't have to, if you don't want," Aster said.

"No, I do," she said. "I've always felt my life gets its meaning from my work. Helping my clients get out of some truly dark places— I was making the world better. It's the most fulfilling thing I'll ever do."

She paused for a moment. "It's hard to say whether I still think that now, knowing that they're probably all dead, and that we're probably going to join them soon. I think I have to. I have to believe that my life was worth something, or else what's the point?"

She turned away from Aster, still clutching their hand.

"Come on," she said, "Let's keep moving— I want to make it to the lighthouse."

They started walking again. Cassia kept softly sniffling. Aster could see the faint sheen of tears on her cheek. They wanted to reach out and dry them off, but she kept her face turned away.

Instead, Aster looked out, across the water. It was almost perfectly calm— the breeze had died down, and there were no boats to churn up waves. They could see the faint shadow of the headland across the bay, another shade of black caught beneath the sky and the water. The lake calmed them, as it always had. This wasn't a half-bad place to die.

Their thoughts were interrupted by Cassia cursing softly.

"Goddamnit," she said, rubbing her eyes with her free hand. "I can't stop crying, I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Aster said, gently running their thumb along the side of her hand.

"It's just hitting me now," she said, looking back at the shore, "we're not going to get any of the things we worked so hard for. I'm never going to open my own practice. You're never going to finish your thesis. We're never going to get out of that shitty apartment."

She paused, taking a deep breath. "We're never going to have our wedding. All the money we saved up— it's worthless now. How can you be so strong, so stoic, knowing that?"

"It's not strength. It's something else. I'd rather feel what you're feeling, instead of just... resignation," Aster said. "I want those things just as much as you do."

"For what it's worth," they continued, turning to face her, "I did make you this. I was saving it for when we got to the lighthouse, but you should have it now." They pulled a ring made of braided twist ties out of their pocket and showed it to Cassia.

"Aster. I love you, and I appreciate that you made this for me, but what is that?" she said, laughing.

"Well, it's supposed to be a wedding ring. It got a little squished in my pocket." Aster bent it back into a circular shape. "I started making it when it became clear that our wedding couldn't happen, but by then we were on the road, so I had to just use what I could find. Hence the twist ties."

They continued. "I'm not even sure it fits, to be honest. I just wanted you to have something."

Cassia surprised them by pulling them into a kiss. As she pulled away, she spoke.

"It's lovely." She took the ring from them and tried to slide it onto her finger, but was unable to get it past the second knuckle. "But it doesn't fit."

"Dammit," said Aster, laughing.

"It's okay though. I don't need a wedding. I'm sad that we won't get ours, but it really was just a formality— I love you just as much regardless."

"Besides," she continued, "it's not like there's much point to getting married now anyways. A forever commitment doesn't mean very much if forever is only the next twenty minutes."

"True, but eternity extends to whatever comes after death as well— don't you want to be two ghosts, floating in the eternal void together?" Aster asked.

Cassia just shook her head in response, but Aster could see that she was smiling.

"See, that cheered you up," they said.

Aster looked ahead. They were almost at the end of the pier now. The lighthouse was familiar as ever, in faded red and white, with graffiti older than both of them covering the bottom third. It was elevated on a small concrete dais, with a larger concrete block a few paces in front of it.

"Come on— we're almost there. Let's keep moving." Aster took Cassia's hand again, and they started walking down the pier again.

Cassia pointed at the block as they approached. "Do you remember that skateboarder, when we came here for our anniversary?"

"Oh my god, I nearly dropped my custard I was laughing so hard," said Aster.

"The look on his face when his board rolled into the lake!" she said.

"And when he tried to ask the fisherman if he could get it out and he just straight-up said no!"

"There was that other time with him and your mom, when we were here with her—"

"Don't remind me," said Aster. "The guy trapped her in a conversation about fish for two hours!"

"I mean, she certainly seemed to be enjoying herself, what can I say? That woman has the gift of gab or something..." Cassia's voice trailed off. "Had, I guess."

They were quiet for the last few steps to the end of the pier. They stood at the steel-cable railing for a while, looking out into the darkness, listening to the gentle sounds of waves lapping at the concrete.

"So this is it," said Cassia.

Aster looked up at the stars. They saw that another had gone dark while they were walking, leaving only one lone star still shining.

"Aster, can I ask you something?" Cassia asked.

"Go ahead. It's the end of the world— no point in keeping secrets," Aster replied.

"Do you remember the night we met? Why were you here?"

They listened as she continued. "It's always bothered me. Why come out here alone in the middle of the night? I walked out here so I could scream and cry as loud as I wanted with no one around to hear me. But you seemed almost serene— sad, but serene. Why?"

"The night we met wasn't the first time I'd come out here— I got in the habit when I moved here for college. Whenever I was having a bad night I'd just drive out and walk down this pier, spend some time just staring at the water. Something about watching the waves and the stars just calmed me," Aster said.

"But you were crying."

"We both were. But you're right. That night was one of the worst. I was so tired— it felt like my life was just an endless grey slog, like it wouldn't ever mean anything. Part of me wanted to just jump in the lake and swim away, hoping I'd wake up somewhere else."

"Aster, did you—"

They cut her off. "No. I didn't want to die— I still don't. I wanted change. And you were the change I needed," they said, turning to face Cassia.

"I spent so much time convinced I would die alone. I'm so grateful that we found each other," Aster said, tears in their eyes.

"You won't be alone. Whatever comes after, whether it's heaven or hell or just oblivion, we'll face it together," Cassia said, pulling them into an embrace.

They shared a kiss, gently, almost reverently. When they pulled away, they stood there holding each other for a long time. Cassia rested her head on Aster's shoulder. Eventually, she spoke.

"Can we sit down? It's cold and I'm getting tired."

Aster led her over to the lighthouse, arm protectively around her. They settled into a pose familiar to both, Aster sitting propped up on the lighthouse and Cassia sitting between their legs, their arms wrapped tightly around her. The act had a sense of finality to it, like they were sitting down together for the last time. They sat there for a long while. Eventually, Cassia spoke again.

"You asked me something, on the walk out here— whether my life had meaning. When we met, you weren't sure if yours did. What do you think now?"

Aster contemplated for a moment, then answered. "I've certainly spent a long time thinking about it. Even before all of this, we knew the world had to end somehow. If nothing we do here lasts, is there a point to existing at all?"

"I don't know if there's a concrete answer. I think if there were, philosophers would have figured it out long ago. But you know, some things are truly irreversible— you can try to put them back but they will never be the same. I think that's the meaning. We can all die, and the planet can die with us, but our just being here has changed the universe in some small way. I think that's enough."

"Aster..." Cassia said, her voice weak, "I love you."

Aster replied, "I love you too," gently pressing their lips to the top of her head. They rested their head on her shoulder, and closed their eyes.

In the sky high above them, like a parent turning out the lights in a child's bedroom, the last of the stars went out.