“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.”
― Cormac McCarthy, The Road
The Last Sunset
Oscar and Matt were neighbors and had been for five years. Their wives had made friends with each other right from the start – meeting every morninh walking their dogs while their husbands were at work – but the two men hardly knew each other.
When the news came in, both wives were out of town – they had gone to Vegas for a girl’s weekend, leaving the husbands on their own. Oscar and Matt met out in the front yard, talking calmly while the world came apart around them. They could hear gunshots all around the neighborhood, cars were screaching around the corners, and so many people were simply standing in their yards screaming obscenities or nonsense wails. Neither of the two men were prone to panic or losing their minds – so they both wandered outside and said hello to each other.
“Sara said Mary talked to you,” said Oscar.
“Yeah, I called before the cell service went down. They both want to come home, but there is no way they can make it until tonight. We said goodbye as best we could.”
“Same thing here. She was losing it when the system went down. I feel awful, but can’t think of anything I can do.”
The two men looked out over their neighborhood. Columns of smoke were rising from burning homes and the volume of gunfire and screaming was increasing.
“Well, what do we do now?”
“It looks like we’d both better get the hell out of here, I don’t want to get shot in my own yard. Why don’t we head out, up to the mountains. I know a fire road out of here that won’t have anyone one it – we head up there all the time for overnight camping trips. We can take my four by.”
“That sound good. I’ve got a casserole Mary made before she left, it’s pretty good. We can get out and have something to eat.”
“I’ve got a bag of weed and a bottle of good single malt. Take your pick.”
“Shit, both. Why not?”
“Yeah. Well, I’ll bring the truck around. What else do we need?
“Nothing, nothing. What did they say… four hours left?”
“Yeah that’s about it. Let’s get going.”
Oscar brought the truck around while Matt went in to get the casserole, plates, and forks. He climbed in as Oscar drove by and looked over the whisky and weed in the console.
“You got papers?”
“There’s a little pipe and a lighter in the glove box. Go ahead and light up if you want?”
“Is that a good idea?”
“What the hell? You think anyone gives a shit?”
“Nah. Don’t know what I was thinking.”
They smoked in silence as Oscar drove through the neighborhood and then turned onto a gravel fire road that Matt had never noticed in all the years he had driven past that part of town. The road rapidly began to gain altitude, winding past the creek that tumbles down from the high country above. After only two hours of driving they turned again and powered through a mountain meadow and a rocky clearing that opened up with a view of the city below framed with the tall forest trees.
“Jesus, what a beautiful spot,” said Matt. “I never knew this was up here.”
“Nobody does,” replied Oscar. “Sara and I stumbled on this spot a few years ago, my company surveyed the new fire road and I came out and explored it. We kept it as secret as we can. It’s been a great getaway for us. Only two hours of driving and you might as well be on the moon.”
“Well, I sure as hell am glad we’re not down there any more.” Matt gestured out at the city. The sun was getting close to the horizon but the fading light illuminated huge clouds of smoke rising from the city.”
“The whole thing is burning down. Shame,” said Oscar.
“Doesn’t really matter, does it?”
“Nope. Unless they are wrong.”
“Could they be wrong?”
“Well, I guess anything is possible. But I don’t think so.”
“Now how are they sure? The radiation beam? They call it a gamma ray burst.”
“The tacheons. I read all about it online before the ‘net went down. Those are tiny particles, very hard to detect, they go through everything like nothing was there. But there are huge detectors, some down in mines, one under the ice in Antarctica, under the ice. This morning they detected this huge, mammoth tacheon pulse. Every detector, everywhere. The only explanation was an oncoming gamma-ray burst from a nearby star. A burst powerful enough to end all life on earth.”
“But how to the… tacheons? Get here before the gamma rays? Don’t those move at the speed of light?”
“Yeah, but the tacheons go out first. When the star supernovas they send out the tacheons right before, like 12 hours ahead of the gammas. That gives us… maybe and hour left.”
“Shit, how are they so sure? They could be wrong?”
“They don’t seem to be. At any rate we’ll know in an hour or so. Hey, lets break out that bottle.”
“Ok. Shit, I forgot to grab glasses.”
“No matter, we can drink out of the bottle.”
Matt picked the bottle up, spun off the cap, and threw it off into the woods.
“Well, I lost the cap, now we’ll have to drink the whole thing.”
The two men sat there watching the last sunset, passing the whisky bottle back and forth. As the sky went from orange to dark purple, a single star began to glow, brighter and brighter, until it was light again, as light as a gray day. The atmosphere far above them began to ionize, spreading waves of color, all colors of the rainbow, including some that the two men had never seen.
“That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” said one of the men.
“Yeah,” said the other. “And the last.”