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The end of the world

If one travels from A to B, there must then exist a route from B to A. He doesn’t care if the world has ended. He doesn’t care if realities overlap. He’s done with this place and he’s going back to where he started: the auditorium, his notes, his work.

She talked about symbols. He tears apart a blank book he found somewhere and folds origami seats, an apron, a proscenium. Purple and green flicker at the edges of his model. The vellum is soft; the velvet curtains, he remembers, were red.

He begins to massage the tip of his finger.

The end of the world

His finger aches as he dyes the vellum crimson.

Paper sucks blood away, a capillary hunger he finds it somehow hard to watch, but soon the model is finished. He sets it in place and the light flares green and purple, colors of greed. It’s lapping at him. It is pulling him down.

The auditorium.

He crouches in the aisle, nauseated, feeling like a rough stone in a tumbler from his own graceless travel. But he’s back. He stumbles to his seat to find his notebook, a battered little thing covered in strata of ink.

A sound makes him look up.

The end of the world

He can place it now, the noise, the low whine rising. Everyone breathing together, said the end of the world. But breathing their first or last?

He flips through his notebook. Even the inside cover is layered in incomprehensibly dense script, black on white on black repeating, but he remembers writing his name first in case he were to lose it. It’s still down there somewhere. Information can be neither created nor destroyed.

What does it take to wash ink from memory? He touches the edge of one page with his still-bleeding finger. The paper sucks hungrily, and then he knows.

The end of the world

He steps outside and realizes he forgot to fold this part.

The sky above him glints like sugar spilled on ink. There are trees here, sharp and twisted things, like nothing on earth. Where is he?

When is he?

How old is he?

How old was she when–

He grabs a branch; his hand comes away bloody, and he smears it across the pages. Names lift from it and float away (Zocco Zion Zinnia Zhenya) but they’re all wrong. What page was it on? Seventeen? Nineteen?

Maybe he shouldn’t ask.

Somewhere a snowskull drifts to earth, ELIOT melting from its brow.

The end of the world

Tearing off branches studded with thorns. Twisting them together, a crude handle and tails. Tying knots. Testing it. A whistle in the air.

He looks down at his notebook, his map of the territory. He stole so much from her house, heedless and headlong: his sin is marked with ink on ink. Only blood will out the stain.

“All humans can draw,” she said once. He’ll draw something, all right, here in this forest at the end of the world.

He raises the whip and lets it fall. One. Two. Three.

By a hundred and one, he’s long since lost count.