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Category: Short Stories

Short Story – Dark Things


Author’s Note: Hello all, Museless Bard here. This short story is darker than my usual fare, and you should continue with caution. This particular story is about a dark, forbidden area, and a woman being lost there. It contains some violent scenes and content. This story is a horror story. If any of those are something you are uncomfortable with, please navigate away.

“Dark things begat by dark deeds haunt the lowlands, and it is best that you stay away from them lest you be caught up in their troubles, children…”

There was no fairy tale rhyme to ward children away from the lowlands. Rather the warning was painted in black and white for them. Travel from the village and stay in the lowlands after dark, and you would never return. The town would never find your body because they would never seek it out. It was too dangerous. It wasn’t just children that didn’t return from this place. Others who wandered into the morass found themselves lost. Those up to no good would venture close enough to dispose of evidence, knowing that the dark things beyond would destroy any signs of the atrocity they had committed.

Here in the muck lay one such case, half-buried in the cold, wet mud of the lowlands. She was alone. While she lived, it was clear that there was not much soul left in her. Her face was bruised and torn, and her body faired little better. Her open wounds would fester in the mud, tattered remnants of her clothes offering scant protection from the things unseen that would twist and poison her blood. Yet, as the sun set beyond the horizon, she began to stir. Little by little, she summoned the strength to endure. She crawled in the muck at first, dragging her body towards the distant setting light.

As the evening grew dim, she raised to her knees, finding a tree to help pull her form up and out of the mud. She trudged towards higher ground, knowing that her time was short. She was determined, unwavering.  If she stayed in this place, she knew she would die. Perhaps more importantly, she would be forgotten, and crimes committed against her would never be known. She was too weak to make good headway, though. Her legs pushed her as far as they could before dark. Each step dragged muck with her, the very ground holding her as if trying to pull her back and under the darkened and damp earth of the lowlands. Her blood loss made her sluggish. She had little energy, and her will could not overcome that simple physical truth.

She heard movement. The wet footfalls of something following her. She tried to pick up her speed as those wet thuds came closer and closer. They grew louder and louder. Soon, it moved from one pair of closing footfalls to two, and then three. She heard the noises begin between her and her distant goal of the border of the lowlands. She attempted to adjust her direction. Twisting to one side and going where the sounds were the quietest. Still, they persisted. They grew closer and closer.

Ravenous snarls were soon enough finding her ears. Whatever harried her had found her scent through all this muck and grime. It had no trouble tracking every change in direction she made. She knew that if she stopped, she would be overtaken. Her only option was to keep moving, to keep stumbling through the mud and the dark. She fought through the pain and weakness to keep herself going. If she failed, she would be killed – but she wasn’t faster than her hunters.

After a few moments, as the noises grew loud and close, there was a scent. It was the putrid scent of decay, the very essence of death itself. It forewarned of their arrival, and despite her desire to gag and cough, she kept from it. Any extra noise would have helped them hone in on her, and that was something she could not have. Every extra second counted. If only she could buy a little more time, she might be able to make it to the edge. She might be able to escape.

A dark figure leaped from the shadows near her. It was a blur to her, but she responded quickly enough to avoid its pounce. For a second, she believed that had been her doing, but that thought was quickly and irrevocably quashed when a second appeared in front of her.

There stood what was once a man, nearly six feet tall. His body was decayed, broken, and torn skin pulled tight against the body. His jaw hung helplessly open and she felt a cold chill break upon her with the mere view of the creature. There was a glow within it, a dim and sickly green that seemed to leak out from thinner patches of skin and muscle. It existed behind its eyes, and as it made a guttural growl towards her, the lights within flared brighter.

She had tried to keep running. She tried to pass it by. With one arm outstretched, it caught her as if she was nothing. Tips of its boney fingers bore into her naked flesh, the tips raking skin and muscle away as its grip tightened around her arm. It pulled hard. Its strength was impossible. It pulled her by her arm and yet was powerful enough to tear her off her feet, and as it did, there was an incredible pain in her shoulder and a deafening pop from inside her arm. Then, she smashed to the ground with the creature atop her. It pressed her hard into the muck and sought to hold her there.

It wasn’t just the one. Another grabbed her and its claws tore into her flesh to hold her down. Yet another found her leg, and she felt teeth sink into her skin and flesh, and the ripping pain of her flesh being torn from the bone. There was a moment of realization, of loss, as the creatures worked to tear her apart. She felt a wave of anger she had never known for those moments. She was unfinished, unwilling to die here, to die now. She wouldn’t. She would get her justice. She would get her chance to see things were made right, that this happened to no one else. She let out a wail; all of her pain made manifest in a single piercing sound that rose through the night.

It was enough. The creatures paused, and they broke away from her. The lights within them flared brightly and they backed away. She had summoned something more dangerous than them, something they feared. She saw him as they parted.

There stood a man in a cloak and a mask. Behind the eyes of the mask was a burning green light where his eyes should have been. His skin was pale, but he was living. She saw him take a breath. She saw his chest rise and fall. In his hand was a gnarled staff of twisted, petrified wood and bone. He stepped closer to her, and the beasts parted and released her. They snarled at him, and with a wave of his hand, they moved further back and away from her. The masked man knelt in the mud next to her, and he offered her a hand.

She instinctively tried to reach for the offered hand, but her main arm had been dislocated. She couldn’t feel it, and she struggled even to bend forward just a bit.

He shushed her as she tried to move. He reached a hand across her and took her other hand. There was a moment of warmth that flowed through her as he gave her hand a small squeeze. He gave a smile, the wrinkles of it visible just beyond his mask. It made her calm. The pain was still there, but the wounds seemed less grievous to her. It had been shocking, unbearable. But now, it felt as if she could deal with it. She sat up slowly but surely, all the while, helped by his guiding hand. Soon enough, she stood with him. He gave her a nod and waited. He didn’t say anything, but instead, he walked with her as she moved. She was cautious at first, slowly watching the shadow creatures that had attacked her. They seemed less interested now. She seemed safe.

With a deep breath, she began her trek back towards the edge of the lowlands. It took her a few minutes, but eventually, she realized that he was guiding her. Once he had discovered her destination, he took the lead. It was just a few steps ahead of her. Despite the time it took to walk through the lowlands that evening, she did not speak to him and he did not speak to her. He only walked in silence for what felt like an hour. She appreciated what he had done for her and despite the wounds that still plagued her, it felt that with him there she held the strength to go on.

Eventually, near the witching hour, they reached the edge of the lowlands. The gentle hills rose out of the muck and towards the forests and fields of her home village. The masked man’s hand rose, and he pointed to a flickering light in the distance. Her eyes followed his point. Could she have been lucky enough that there was a camp nearby? She felt his hand drop hers. He turned to her and gave a single nod. She did not hesitate and quickly stepped up and out of the lowlands. When she looked back to thank him, he was not there. Nor were the things in the dark that had followed them. She was alone.

Cold, she wrapped her arm around herself and began to stumble up the hill. Her wounds still ached, but the hope of finding a way out of here and a second chance made her feel a surge of energy. So, with some speed, she made her way up the hill that night. The campfire came more into view and soon a lone tent and some figures too. She felt her heart swell with excitement and relief as she crested that hill to the camp.

Then it all stopped.

There was a woman, her face frightened and bloodied, her clothes torn. She couldn’t hear her whimpers, but she could see the fear twisting her face and the stains left by her tears. It didn’t take long for her to realize the two men in the camp. These were the same two that had tossed her in the morass just a few hours prior. They had just finished a drink, from the looks of it, and started back towards the woman. They had no intentions worth considering. She couldn’t think of it. She had to stop them, to end this. She was injured, and there was not a lot left in her. Maybe, she thought, she could give the woman a chance to escape. That would be enough for her. With that in mind, she breached the edge of the camp.

She had wanted to yell stop at them, but when her mouth opened, no words came out. There was only a groan. She knew she was frightened and weak, but she had to take action. As they descended on the other woman, she felt that rage return. She would not let them destroy another life out here. Whatever bits of fear she had left her for a moment, and she took a deep breath to scream at them again. As she stepped forward, she let out what she could.

To her surprise, it wasn’t a word. It was a wail. It was the same wail she had let out when attacked by those creatures.

The men were startled and jump up and away from the woman, turning to face this new threat. They reached for whatever weapons they had handy. One found a stick, and the other pulled a knife from his belt. Neither advanced, though. Both panicked and stumbled backward. As she stepped forward, they only moved faster and faster away from her. That rage still boiled. She didn’t understand why they ran, but she wouldn’t let them flee. She felt a surge of energy and rushed forward. One stumbled back and fell, and she raced to take advantage of that.

She saw the fear in his eyes as she was atop him. She let out a yell. Again, it came out a wail, and before her eyes, his body grew old and decayed. The skin on his face tightened, dried, and cracked open His panicked expression must have matched her own and was frozen in time as his breath slowed and stopped, but she did not have time to think about it. His friend launched at her and she raised her arm to defend herself. When his cudgel passed through her arm as if it were mist, everything clicked in her mind.

The realization made her panic.

She let out a terrified wail at his attack. The sound was loud enough, they say, to be heard in the distant village. As the wail faded, the man crumbled to the ground before her, lifeless. His flesh and life torn out of him and blown away like a fire snuffed out by a strong wind. All that remained was a desiccated corpse. Her vision was drawn to the young woman, who lay shaking on the ground, covering her head. She was beyond terrified.

The panicked banshee turned to run back towards the lowlands. Her sight caught a glimpse of the stranger in the mask, standing at the edge of the morass. His hand stretched out and pointed back beyond the camp as she ran towards him. She glanced back, torches from the village riding out to investigate the sound.

The woman would be found. She’d be safe – if scarred.

With the sun starting to peek over the distant horizon when she arrived next to the man, she saw that cracked smile crossed his face again. He offered her a hand as she approached. She hesitated, and after a moment, she took his hand. The sun rose, and she disappeared, only ever to return when dark deeds were dealt near her resting place.

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Short Story – The First Magi

Author’s Notes – This is my second Short Story of the year. However, I think I failed completely at the idea of a short story this time. This feels much more like a prologue. The story here is only hinted at, and I don’t feel like it is a complete story. That all being said, I wanted to post it anyway. Maybe if people enjoy it, I might make it into a full fledged long form. I think there are some fun ideas to play with here, and it is always fun to explore magic systems. Take a look. I hope you enjoy. And next week, I hope to have a story that works much better for actually being a ‘Short Story’.

The First Magi

There was little age on his hands, few wrinkles marking the passage of time, but the tremor in his hand as he gripped a feathered pen was clear. This was a man who had seen time pass into memory for ages uncounted. It was the tiredness in his grip and the weight in his eyes that showed the wearing on his soul much more than anything about his body indicated. He took a long breath. His shoulders rolled to find a more comfortable seated position. His joints cracked just a bit as he sat up a bit straighter.

Those tired eyes drifted across the length of the library he sat within. A crackling fire in an old stone fireplace shone light across the large room, with shadows dancing across the countless tomes and scrolls that lay stacked in endless corridors of bookcases. This was not a flowery description or overly inflated assumptions of the size of the place, it was the truth – or as close to it as a Magi could ever get. The corridors of books twisted in impossible fashions, bending through space and wrapping around one another with no semblance of reliance on the bounds of physics. A corridor may have spiraled over one of the others, disappearing into one of the open spaces in a distant bookcase, and exiting through the back of another on the opposite side of the room.

His eyes caught his apprentice as she approached from a distance. If you had asked him a few years prior, he never would have considered taking an apprentice – but as she searched for a scroll or tome, angled as if she was standing on the wall from his perspective here, he couldn’t imagine having left her behind. The thought let his breath escape for a moment, a sigh. He tapped the pen on his desk and leaned back in his chair.

The tapping seemed to awaken a nearby piece of paper. It perked up like a curious, sleeping cat. With a small flitter, it lifted off the floor near the desk, and it was picked up by some unseen wind and brought up to the desk. It floated softly to rest just next to the man’s hand. He twisted his hand to place the nib against the parchment, and with a swipe of his fingers, the first trail of ink followed behind.

To the Council of Magi, he wrote.

When we last spoke, I submitted that I would not take another apprentice of the Arts in the future. I found myself unwilling to consider such an event would again present itself to me, but I write to you today to say that I have changed my mind and will be taking an apprentice. His eyes drifted up to the distant girl, who struggled to pull a scroll from its base just out of her reach. He shook his head softly and turned back to his writing, I have found an assistant who exhibits exceptional power in the use of magic. 

There as a clattering which caused him to raise his head. In the distance he could see her standing with a hand outstretched, a single scroll levitating under a silver sparkling wind as a mess of books settled around her on the pathway that spiraled above him. He shook his head.

“Alejandra!” His old voice bellowed out.

“I’m okay,” She squeaked out a startled response, leaning back to look down at him – though it was up from her perspective, and her neck was stretched back as far as possible to look at him.

“The books, Alejandra,” He looked away from her for a moment and to the letter. He rarely second-guessed himself, but this was one of those times.

“Right,” She called back. His eyes returned to watch her for a moment – and that hesitation was gone. She stretched out her hands and her a swirling silver mist raised up around her. Her clothes billowed as if she was in the wind, or perhaps falling a short distance, and all the while, the books rose from their resting points. They rose gently, twisting harmless in the shimmering gray winds summoned by the young woman.

He turned back to his writing shortly, his wrist twisting with the letters as he wrote. Despite everything the Council has ever done, despite everything they have said, her very existence has called me to question our leadership. In the thousands of years we have existed, they have spoken of one single truth. Humans are not able to weave the threads of fate. And yet, here I sit, He paused and glanced back up to view his assistant. A handful of books floated back to their spots in the bookcases as she floated just a few inches above the ground, her clothes and hair tossed around by the mystic winds that followed her hands and the direction they gave to return the books. He continued, watching as she uses magic for the mundane tasks I set upon her, having learned from little more than observing me as I work. 

Her potential is there and yet her existence is threatened by the very people who should be embracing her skills. He took a breath and glanced up again. He couldn’t spot her immediately. She had wandered deeper into the stacks on his task for her. For a moment, he hesitated. You. He wrote finally. He tapped his pen against the parchment for a moment before his resolve returned. He sat up straighter, his mind was made up. This facade ended here. Alejandra is my apprentice, let it be known from this moment forward. She will be the first magi of her kind. 

There was a reason he had steeled himself. Again, hesitation reached him. The line he was about to cross was worth it though. My duty to the threads comes first, and I will fulfill it to the best of my ability. Wrongfully holding back an entire people will not stand. You may hunt her and seek to stop me, but know that I will protect her with every ounce of my power. Any attack on her or her kind on her behalf will be known to me.

So it is written, so shall I take my new apprentice, and when her training is complete, she will stand before the Council.

“Sir,” Her voice broke through the silence of his mind as he wrote. He glanced up from his writing to see the young girl with a hand full of scroll cases, standing a few steps distant from his desk. She was shadowed by the flickering light of the fireplace. She gave him a weak smile. “I’ve gathered the scrolls you asked for.”

He started to speak. He stopped, though, and he nodded to her. “Good,” He said with a trailing of the word as his next question came to the air. “Do you want to be a Magistrix, Alejandra?”

She seemed to draw a blank for a moment, before her head hastily bobbed up and down, “Yes, yes, I would.”

“It won’t be easy. It won’t be safe. The art of magic itself is dangerous, and because of what you are people will try to stop you from succeeding.”

“I understand,” She said sternly. There was a confidence there. “So was life before,”

“This is different than people treating you like a mutt,” He spoke coldly, “Or living on the street. Those things are dangerous to this body,” He reached out a finger and pressed hard into her shoulder. “The dangers I speak of will tear at your soul. A mistake in magic, a lowering of your guard, and the very fabric of the universe will seek to erase you to repair the mistake. Even in success, you may find yourself at odds with powers most of your kind only consider to be mythological. You have seen some of the dangers I have faced.” He raised a finger, “There is no shame in choosing a life away from these dangers. Are you sure you are ready?”

She paused for a moment. There wasn’t an answer for a time, but her shoulders shrugged after a moment, “Of course not,” She nodded to herself, “But you said that you hadn’t seen a magi like me before. Humans weren’t seen as capable of using magic, right. So,” She glanced at him, her hands rubbing and wringing nervously, “It would be wrong not to take advantage of that. I think. So I don’t really have a choice.” She shrugged, again, a nervous tick. “I mean, I want to learn. It’s amazing…”


His voice shook her to a bit of a truer decision. “Yes, I’m ready to learn,” She nodded her head hardily. “I accept the dangers.”

He nodded to her and lifted a finger to point to the scrolls and tomes she collected. “Good,” He smiled, “Those will be your first proper lessons,” He gave a dismissive wave, “Take those with you. Return home, and rest. We’ll begin tomorrow.”

“Are you sure? I don’t feel like I’ve done much today.”

He nodded, “I need to finish up some things here. So, you’ll learn nothing more today,” He looked past her to the entrance to the library, “Besides, some relaxation will make you a better student tomorrow.”

“Okay. Is there anything else you need?”

“No,” Was the only response. Neither said anything else. She stood silently for a moment, but then gave a quick nod and took the scrolls and tomes with her as she headed out. She hesitated from time to time, but eventually, she moved behind him and stepped beyond the threshold marked by large oaken doors. When the doors closed behind her he turned back to his letter. The pen in his hands tapped on the paper again, leaving some errant droplets of ink to stain the parchment. He finally put the nib to the end of the letter.

Justiciar, Magister of the Watch. He signed off. A small flicker of silver flame fell from the pen and onto the ink. It spread across the page and in mere seconds the document had turned to ash. He looked off to the distance, and for a moment there was silence and stillness within the room.

Moments passed before there was a flash of light, a blue flame appearing where the letter had been, and leaving a smoldering remnant that formed into another letter. This letter was different.

Justiciar, It said, You have made your choice. You are hereby relinquished of your council seat, and exiled from Magister society. You have chosen the enemy. We will not suffer a traitor, especially one who has fallen as far as you. Then, signed at the bottom was a simple, So it is written by the Council of Magisters.

He turned his eyes up again looking out to the libraries beyond. One by one the stacks began to spark with that same blue flame. Roaring fires soon engulfed the countless tomes and pathways beyond, riding through until they reached the points where the stacks met the library. There was no heat, there was no sound, only the visual representation of the magic tearing through the cases of books and tomes. Once they had all reached the library where he sat, the fires relented and faded. They left nothing. Unadulterated void stretched beyond, with no sign of the knowledge that had been within moments earlier.

Still. He was happy with his choice. She deserved to have one soul believe in her. He was proud it was him. It was a familiar feeling to be so alone from one’s own kind, and only fitting that she would take his place. She would become the next Justiciar, with or without the Council’s resources. With that thought, he stood and took a breath. He reached out towards the fireplace and slowly closed his fist. The flickering fire was snuffed by a silvered wind, and he turned to head towards those oaken doors.

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Short Story – The Answer

Author’s Notes: This is something a little different for me. I’ve wanted to try to write more short stories, so I’m giving myself a challenge to write one short story a week. This is a weird one, and came from a weird idea I had. I wanted to keep it under 2500 words, so I felt a bit rushed. I’ll get over that as I improve, and hopefully these will get better. Either way, I hope you enjoy my first Short Story in this very random series.

The Answer

The only way to explain the experience of deep space hibernation was to imagine hitting the snooze button on one’s alarm over and over, except instead of buying oneself a few more minutes, one was buying a few more centuries to fade back into the virtual dream they had lived within for so long. Of course, that was the original technology. A person would be put in hibernation, with micro-adjustments allowing them to experience a virtual world in lieu of dreaming. Over the years, the mind was allowed a few scant thoughts. To the person in hibernation, it was a short dreaming sensation, a fun diversion to pass the time. It was impossible to realize that the service was designed to reboot the brain over and over, moments before it faded away entirely.

The body was placed in a sort of coma for as long as possible. The thoughts were given as brain activity drifted dangerously low, and for short moments one was woken up before the body faded – but never brought from the hibernation fully. To the passenger, it was a short nap, but great distances and times had passed. It was the only way to exist in the great vast distances between stars. Connected pods would allow one to have some socialization.

This had not been one of those trips. A lonely night on the edge of a hill watching the stars was the entirety of the virtual experience, interspersed with strange drifting off only to confuse the dream and real life for a moment as the body rebooted. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it also wasn’t designed to be pleasant. It was solemn. It was a view that wouldn’t be seen again.

One dream, a word appeared in the sky. It was a simple digital text that read nonsense. The program had lasted as long as it could. As the garbled words spread across the skyscape, the vision faded to darkness. There was an instinctive deep breath sometime later, and opening of eyes and the slow realization that the dream was over. The real world was all that remained. The voyage, as it was, had come to its end. Waking was always the hard part. Drowsy, heavy eyes begged to stay asleep. Limbs struggled to move. But after a time, after a few long moments, there was movement. There was breath.

The Dreamer woke to the world of their starship. It was a cold place, both figuratively and literally. The temperature was well below comfortable, only enough to keep the life that it held from freezing. The lights were dim, barely illuminating the plain metal bulkheads and accessories of the room. Wires and straps held the dreamer to a bed, where their body had lain for the duration of travel. As they woke, they slowly removed the straps and tubes one by one, and eventually sat up. It was strange to see their body again.

They were younger than they felt, aging slowed by the unnatural coma that guided them safely here. In the dream, the Dreamer had aged as they would have expected. Their body grew and grayed on that hill under the stars, but here, they had remained frozen at the moment they had gone to sleep – give or take a few years from the short restarts. After a few short, unbalanced breaths, they turned to twist. Their hips wobbled on the bed, their hands catching the edge and keeping them from falling but only just. Their legs swung weakly off the side, and with a small push, they tried to lift off.

In a low gravity situation, this was easy. It was lucky, though. The strength in their legs likely wouldn’t have held up their form. They had one goal for now. Every long sleep required a wake-up period. Though they didn’t know how long they had laid there struggling to wake from the dream, they knew what to do after.

On a counter near the bed where they had slept was a small box. It was not labeled and showed no signs of movement for a long time. There in the room, it had been kept in the same brutal stasis they had been.  They opened the box and glanced across the items with a small sigh. It was a series of small tubes and a small syringe to use them. This was the cocktail that would eventually bring them back to the land of the living. The feeling of the vials in their hands, the needle against their skin, the slow sting of something entering their body, all were part of sensation that had been left behind so long ago. Now, suddenly it was back. Their body responded slowly. There was a bit of warmth, a bit of energy, an illusion of health returning. It would be a long time before that strength returned.

Then, they reached out to the counter. They pulled themselves along the counter, floating through the small room towards a sealed door. The console at its side lit up as they approached. The dim blue light was almost brighter than any of the others that had been illuminating the place before. It made a weak chime and with a resounding hiss, the door cracked open. The atmosphere spilled out of the small room and into the others within the ship beyond that door. A loud, droning hum vibrated along the bulkhead walls as the ship lumbered back to life. Faded lights flickered a bit brighter, and for a moment. They were waking up.

They reached out and grabbed one of the many small handholds near the now opened door. This was no massive ship; it seemed to be little more than these two rooms, at least that was accessible. The room they pulled themselves into was the control room, with powered down control panels lining each side, and most importantly the large transparent viewport that looked out into the space around them. In all their years, all their experiences, they had never experienced a view like this, though.

There was nothing. No stars lit the sky beyond. There was no glowing dust lit by dim stars in a distant sky. For the first time, they felt a strange sensation. It was a growing excitement. For a second, the realization that there had been a success with the plan was there. They had made it.

But the realization of success was followed by a growing dread. There was a small red light on the cockpit controls. Their fingers ran across the light, and the machine chimed at the touch. The sound was calm, uncaring. It made the light chime and blink, checking for signals beyond the small room they inhabited.

The waiting for a return signal and despite every technological advance they had, could take some time. For days, they hovered around the room, waiting for a response, hoping for a response. There was nothing to do but wait. There was no science to be done, no tests to be run. The outside, everything beyond the ship was gone. There was hope that they were not the only ones to reach the End.

Time had lost much of its meaning. The grim realization set in that they might have been alone. There was no response. No signal from the others driven to explore this far. There was no sign of life or much of energy out beyond this place. They had reached the end, and for a moment, recorded what had happened.

As time wore on, there were creaks and sounds within the ship. The ancient creation had been running out of time for many thousands of years. Now, beyond the edge of eternity, it felt that the final stage of existence. Even the forces of nature which held it together had begun to decay. They too weakened, the energy of life slowly fading from existence with them. One by one, the systems of the ship shut down. They always strove to keep that single red light on the console powered, a signal beaming out to the world around them that there was still life. There was always hope that someone out there faired better, that they would know others survived and be able to learn from them.

The truth, they had long ago realized, was that they were the last.

When that light in the ship faded away, and the console grew dim, they knew it was over. With a silent resolve, their eyes closed, and they waited to fade away with the rest of the universe.

Then for a time, there was only silence. They let themselves drift away.

Until there was a voice.

“Hello?” The voice was familiar but foreign. They could not place it. Perhaps it was a memory or an amalgam of them. Or so they thought – until it continued. “I let myself in, I hope you don’t mind. Oh,” The voice was paired with a tap on the bulkhead nearby, “Dozing off. Did I get here too late?”

Their eyes drifted open. They were heavy, barely able to move. Seeing the source of the voice would be impossible. There was no light. Though, when they opened their eyes, there it stood holding a flickering light.

The source was an old man. He wore a warm smile, with cheeks rosy from the cold of the ship as its power failed. He had a long, white beard and a head full of white hair. His face was plump, with the rest of his body large. There was nothing about him that looked as if he should have been there. He didn’t wear a spacesuit, instead wearing an old-fashioned fur-lined jacket over stereotypical winter clothes. He leaned against the bulkhead, with his free hand holding an old gas lantern that bathed him in dull light. They could see his breath.

“Not a talkative one, I see,” The man laughed and leaned down. “Mind if I sit with you?”

He didn’t wait for an answer, he sat down next to them, leaning against the bulkhead. They could hear the lantern as it was placed on the deck plating. They heard the man sigh and felt him turn towards them.

They hadn’t spoken in so long, and they struggled to do so. Their voice was weak, barely above a whisper. “You aren’t real…”

“That’s an odd thing to say,” He responded.

“It is impossible for you to be here…”

“I could say the same to you,” The man responded. “You sought and found the end of time, in a machine designed to reconstitute itself over and over, with little more than debris caught falling into the last black holes, and the hawking radiation from their deaths…” He laughed a bit, “It seems we’re both impossible.”

They didn’t say anything for a moment. That was impossible for him to have known, and with no entrance or exit to this craft, it was impossible for him to have entered. Yet, they indulged their delusions, “You’re a figment of my imagination.”

“I hope a comforting one, at least.” The man said as he rested a hand on their shoulder. They didn’t say anything. They didn’t respond. There was no reason to do so. After a few moments of silence, the man opted to continue. “Well, either way… I was surprised to see you made it this far. There shouldn’t have been anything left, but here you were. Your people were always explorers. That’s what I liked about them.”

“You liked that about them?”

“Yes. Think of it… from the moment they began, they sought to explore. First out of the ocean and onto land. Into the trees. Beyond their forests, and into the fields. Across their seas, beyond the livable places in the world. When they couldn’t explore their world, they explored themselves. Eventually, they explored their solar system, then beyond. Their galaxy. The next. They always sought the next exploration. And that drove them to keep exploring. Beyond everything. To the end of everything.”

They heard the voice and shook their head. “You say that like you knew them.”

“I did. Say you are right, and I am a figment of your imagination…” The man spoke. His hands rose and fell with his words, brushing and tapping against them as he looked out into the nothing. “Then, I – like you, I suppose – am of them. I have the memory of everything that came before for your people. I know them because I was born from them. From their explorations, their explorer.”

“Why are you here?” They asked, changing the subject away from the bigger picture.

“I saw there was still a spark where their shouldn’t have been, so I came to investigate.”

“You saw?”

The man nodded, and a smile crept across his face. “Yes. I was shutting everything down. Turning off the last of the lights on this universe, and saw you.”

“Of course,”

“You don’t believe me. That’s fine,” He said with a smirk, “I could be the last neurons in your mind firing as you fade away.”

“That, I believe,” They said quietly.

“What did you hope to accomplish out here?” The man asked quietly.

They turned to face him and paused. Their eyes were weak, and their head shook lightly. “We didn’t know… what happened next. Someone needed to see it.” They put a hand on the bulkhead and tried to push themselves up a bit, but there was no movement. “Someone needed to see what happened.”


“Just…” They paused. The question lingered unanswered in the air. There was no real answer to it, not that they could find at first. Then, it came to them. “Just in case we were wrong…”

The old man smiled. They had never seen such a wide smile. “That’s the perfect answer. And, it sums up why I do it too…” He patted them on the shoulder. “I’ll leave you be for now. You might want to wake up, just for a minute, though. Or you’ll miss the end.”

They no longer felt him there. After a single blink, there was only darkness and silence again. They were alone at the end of time. There was no light, no lantern, no old man. But their view was drawn to the outside world, or where that should have been. They watched for some time but felt themselves struggling to stay awake.

Then, they saw it. They saw the end. It was a single moment that made a warm smile cross their lips, and as that smile crested their eyes closed.

And the world ended.

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