The word ‘apocalypse’ comes from the ancient Greek for the lifting of the veil – a kind of revelation. This is a story about the angel tasked with the final unmaking.
Cloudless sky. Stars. A breeze sweeps beneath the firmament, heavy with the scents and sounds of distant lands. It stutters and fades as it approaches, eddies at my feet. It brings me the dying breaths of children and adults all over the world. I hear the laughter of innocence and cruelty. I hear lovers coming together and tearing each other apart. I hear legions of child slave labour, small hands lubricating the economic juggernauts. Blood mixes with oil. I hear the joyous communal celebrations at births, weddings and some funerals. I hear everything, but I do not judge. That task was never mine. I bear witness.
On the first day, I rest. This is not the rest of hard labour and exertion past. This is the rest of preparation, the calm before the storm, the deep inhalation. I kneel in rags, in some gutter, anonymous. Flies taste the salt on my lips and eyelids. Rank odours and rotting meat putrefy in the sweltering balefire of the sun. Herd animals snort and stamp. All about me, the dead are letting go of life. I feel their despair. I hear the forgotten.
I kneel in the middle of a city, apparently in worship of the great towers piercing the sky. Suits and designer handbags walk past. Laughter mixes with ignorance over a lunchtime mocha. Idealists struggle with the weight of the system, grinding them down. Traffic signals continue their eternal cycle. Eyes gloss over my homeless appearance. Numbers flow through the digital highways, a hidden landscape that is more real to most than the concrete beneath their feet. The pulses of light flutter desperately.
I kneel in desolation, surrounded by vestiges of untouched terrain. The distant sound of loggers approaches steadily, and a butterfly flutters off my cheek at the resultant tremble. Life continues, bound deeply and intimately. The scent of leaf mold fills my nostrils. Water drips from leaves, under a dense canopy buttressing the sky in a natural cathedral. A fly drowns in a pitcher plant, futile vibrations inches from my face. Inhuman eyes stare at me from the shadows, and at some level they understand. My fingers sink into the ground and cling to the moment before I move on.
I kneel in congregation, surrounded by the faithful. The words of the preacher echo about me, a peculiar sonar, picking out the full and hollow hearts. Blank eyes gaze off into the distance towards future trysts and the day’s domestic chores. The oiled hair of the man in front of me trickles and glistens as he glances at his Rolex. Cheers and song engulf me, and I can already hear the death rattle of many souls in the reverberations. Somewhere at the front, a fragment of love finds purchase in a young heart.
I kneel in the depths of the sea, the water extending my hearing across the planet. My hair floats in the current, my now naked body sensitive to the pressure and temperature. Whales lament the loss of their souls. Plankton dances into hungry mouths. Trawlers scour life from the deep. Sharks patrol with deathless eyes. Oil pumps out of broken pipes. Waves lap hungrily at eroding shorelines. Melting polar ice caps crack and fall into the sea. Desperate illegal immigrants lose their way and their lives in dark waters.
I kneel in the corner of a park. Couples enjoy the unusual weather. Dogs urinate and defecate along the path. Children learn to be adults, alternately playing and bullying each other. Tears mix with mud and dropped ice-cream. Pensioners stare with pursed lips at the moral degradation surrounding them. Teenagers strip and frolic in the open. Mating rituals continue relentlessly and urgently. Mothers cradle their babes, a cigarette balanced in their off hands. Sudoku puzzles and texting devour spare time. Friends play volleyball, shrieks of delight irritating their lonely and envious neighbours.
I kneel in the clouds, cold vapour beading like tears on my skin. Smoke blackens the sky. It issues forth from burning oil wells, funeral pyres, barbecues and legions of stationary automobiles. Aeroplanes race past with incredulous passengers catching sight of me. Birds scatter in the skies, their ownership usurped. The sun’s glare rakes my flesh, effortlessly piercing the flimsy fragments of the ozone layer. Chemicals and radiowaves fill the air. A rogue balloon floats past, soon to burst from the air pressure, never to return to young Caroline Morris of 6 Cartwright Avenue.
On the second day, I raise my head. My eyes are blind, but I see deep into the hearts of the animals. As one, every living thing is revealed unto itself. The beasts of field care little, but the little which does care drives them into a frenzy. Cattle stampede and crush each other to death at their indignity. Gerbils and other pets tear at flesh and choke themselves on their own cage equipment. Some run endlessly in their wheels until their little hearts give way from the strain. Predators choke on the suicidal bodies of their prey, squirming and forcing their way down throats. Insects devour their own broods before expiring.
Stripped of their delusions and dreams, the human race falls to its knees and wails. Black hearts shrivel in the light. Virtuous souls tremble and crack at the weight of cruelty. Children and parents avert their gazes from each other, shame and regret swallowing them. Lonely souls leap from bridges, and fade away in warm pill-fuelled bathtimes. In desperate attempts to alleviate the bleakness, primal instincts run rampant. Civilisation degenerates into a tremendous pit of gluttony and lust, rape and looting, apathy and violence. Relationships crumble and fade in the holocaust. Fattened on a diet of stories, a host of would be heroes arises briefly before simple truth buries them in betrayal, starvation and misadventure. No carrion eaters remain to pick at the swelling charnal mounds. Faceless workers sweep bodies into piles before clambering atop to expire. Armies are overwhelmed and tear themselves apart. Communities, long weakened by the march of progress, dissolve swiftly into self centred and embittered opportunism.
On the third day I cast my gaze to the sea and sky. Birds strike out their eyes, dash themselves against desolate apartment blocks and drown themselves in the sea. Mother birds turn their own eggs out of nests, and peck them apart where they survive the fall. Fish eat and eat until their bellies burst on corpses. In the wilderness, wasteful slaughter continues day and night without any attempt to actually feed. Bloodied feathers dance through the city streets and railway stations. Pigeons impale themselves on spikes. Abandoned goldfish foul their bowls to hasten their own demise. Salmon pile up in a pointless upstream migration, no intention to spawn whatsoever. Whales migrate as one to the beaches and bid one another farewell before forcing themselves onto the killing sands. Dolphins dive deeper and deeper into the engulfing darkness.
Eventually, there is silence, save for the lapping of waves and wind.
On the fourth day I stand, raising my hands to the sky. I count each light and satellite out of existence, leaving the sun on the verge of death. I take away the shame of the world by shrouding it in darkness. The world is now bathed in crimson. The waves stop and the winds die. I cast long shadows over the fields of bodies and devastation. Dead eyes stare up at encroaching blackness. I don’t bother to close their eyelids. Broken buildings are monuments to the end, remnants of a lost reality. Mannequins lie in shattered glass windows, clothing since torn from them, all semblance of respect gone. Pale shadows stretch everywhere, reaching to the horizon.
On the fifth day I bury the dead. I reach down and touch the parched soil. Deep I go, into the beating molten heart. Through layers of time and detritus, eventually I reach the core. Everything stills. Then, freed from constraint, the world tears itself apart. Continents crack and sunder, immense shrieks of strained anguish resonating across the globe. Flame and dust bursts into the light of the dying sun. Massive waves drown the land, and bodies float away into oblivion. Concrete grinds to powder. Signs advertising designer undergarments bow down and crumple. Trains slither into chasms. All vegetation is excoriated in waves of fire and water. Ash fills the air, and rains down on the landscape turning it into my own private snowglobe. Darkness and cold engulfs the planet, and I stride naked through a winter wonderland. I leave faint footprints vanishing in moments under metres of dust. I taste some on my finger, out of mild curiosity.
On the sixth day, I sweep away the ash. I wave my arms across the horizons and exhale. As one, the oceans turn to dust. The hidden tumult of the sundering is lain bare. Tremendous chasms and vistas shattered and dessicated, the hidden beauty of the world is apparent to all viewers. Superheated steam fills the air and blasts me off my feet. I lift my arms and ride the vapour up into the sky, through the ash clouds and into space. All the moisture of the world is flung outwards and dissipates. In the dim light of the dying sun, trillions of ice crystals fly into the void, ruby sparkles glinting in the blackness. The lifeblood of the planet finally departs, stripping away the clouds and any remaining modesty the planet may have hoped to retain. It is naked and cold. I afford it a moment’s silence, as is appropriate, out of respect.
On the seventh day, I finally shed a tear. Just one, but if you look deep into it you can see every lifeform that ever walked that humble sphere, every virus and human being, every plant and fish, every fledgling artificial consciousness. Everything that lived in the history of the world. Every hope and aspiration. Every deceit and betrayal. Every fleeting joy. I finally turn from the husk of the Earth, devastated beyond recognition so as to scarcely deserve that name any longer, and with the weight of this tear on my cheek I extinguish the sun. It resists for a moment, clinging to light, but it passes. All light is gone, and I float in void. I scour the light fleeing the vicinity so that no trace of any light remains anywhere. Space and time contracts. Existence crumples and compacts into an intricate origami lattice, which self obliterates.
In that moment, I hear the Word.