George had traipsed through snow, his feet lazily crunching into the freshly laid blanket on the hill, the sound of the world turned down low so that all he could hear was his own shuffling. He picked a spot at the top, overlooking the town in which he grew up, and sat down. He felt the cold, wet snow soak through his trousers, but he didn’t care. It’s nearly the end of the year, he thought, but what have I done? A discussion began to bounce around his head. Well, you didn’t get that job you wanted, you failed your driving test, you’re still single and you’ve lost a few friends.
No, think of something good, something positive, he implored himself.
How about that pretty girl you finally talked to at the start of the year? You know, the one whose name you daren’t even think of in case she just so happens to be psychic, even though you don’t believe in psychics.
See, that’s a start. She makes me think. I like people who make me think. George was almost being optimistic.
But you’ve only spoken to her twice. To be fair, that’s pretty pathetic. Hardly progress.
Have I really done nothing? Have I really wasted this year? Am I too lazy? Too incompetent? Too scared? Where have I gone wrong? Questions would not stop flooding into George’s head, it felt as though his mind was filling up, ready to burst.
You’ve not gone wrong, you’ve just not gone right. It’s not the end of the world.
The flooding of George’s mind suddenly stopped. The thoughts evaporated, leaving those final words to echo around the void. The end of the world. The end of the world. The end of the world…
George jumped to his feet and ran. He loped through the snow down the hill, running faster than he had in a long time. The end of the world. He bounded across a usually busy road without looking and headed for the woods which flanked the river. By now he would normally be doubled over with stitch, but none of his muscles seemed to realise that they were being used. He ran effortlessly, muttering five words to himself – “The end of the world.” George glided through the trees, skipped steps when he met stairs and found himself eventually running by the side of the river. The rushing waters spurred him on, nature’s chorus singing to him, “The end of the world.” Then he stopped. Before him was the bridge. It was the sort of bridge which you could tell was the pride and joy of the architect, the product of thousands of careful hours of potentially treacherous building for its Victorian construction team, a bridge which could tell a million stories of travels, companionship, love, death and more.
George slowly walked out onto the bridge, taking in the view of the snow-covered countryside. A small country church sat covered in snow near the horizon, like a perfect postcard picture. George climbed onto the side of the bridge, and, without a second thought, jumped into the water.
He felt only the thrill of the jump. He did not notice the iciness of the water, he just let it wash over him and began to swim. George had never been the strongest of swimmers, he didn’t even get to the deep end during swimming lessons at school, but he swam as though he was built for it, cutting through the water at record-breaking speed. He navigated the murky waters of the river, casting a large wake behind him, threading his way through canal systems and past weirs with only a single thought: the end of the world.
Shadows grew long in front of him as the Sun set to his rear, but even his shadow was struggling to match his pace. He felt the river widening as he smelled salt on the air – the sea was ahead. The end of the world. The first wave crashing against his face exhilarated him, he felt the tide flow with him and against him, trying to drag him out and force him back, but George was too forceful, too strong. The waves grew bigger and bigger, rain crashed down upon him as he headed into the heart of a storm. Lightning tore the sky in two, illuminating the way to the end of the world for a multitude of incandescent moments. The sky crashed itself back together, thunder resounding across the crests of the waves, reverberating through George’s mind, urging him on. THE END OF THE WORLD, announced the thunder.
The last swell of the storm carried George further ahead. He did not need to rest, but the sky was relaxing. He floated on his back, the gentle, rhythmic rippling of the water’s surface was meditative, his body slowly swaying. It should be daytime right now at home, he pondered, but out here it is night. He did not know the constellations, he could not even find north in this sky, but he knew where he was going. The end of the world.
The gentle flow rocked George to sleep. When he awoke, he could not tell if it was night or day; those words seemed to lack meaning. Everything out here was different. Well, almost everything. A plastic bag floated into George’s hair, a Woolworth’s bag, which George promptly pocketed. Can’t have that mess out here, he assured himself, then joked, man’s mess is everywhere, and that could be the end of the world.
George sensed something up ahead. No, he thought, that was wrong. George sensed nothing up ahead. The waves in front of him just disappeared, they did not crash into a barrier, they did not rush forth as if going over a cliff; they simply disappeared and reappeared, and disappeared and reappeared. George righted himself, not expecting to find his feet on the loose ocean bed, but he stood tall, taller than ever. He felt huge, Brobdingnagian even. He was standing proudly at the end of the world. No, he thought, that was also wrong. He was standing proudly at the edge of the world.
He didn’t know what he had expected to find at the edge. Everything just sorted of ended. Stopped. There was no barrier, though there were stars which seemed at once to be right in front of him, like some very expensive hyper-realistic wallpaper, and at a great distance, like stars should be, many of them twinkling in our sky long after they had died in their own region of space. Without hesitation, George closed his eyes and stuck his head through the wall of sky. When he opened his eyes he saw nothing. It wasn’t even black. Just nothing. Emptiness, but not. Everything at once if you took it all away, but not a lacuna, not fillable.
What had he expected? Turtles all the way down? A passage into another world where he was perhaps more successful? Some sort of afterlife, an affirmation of a single religion for which he could swim about evangelising? Was this vacuum the answer? No God? No beyond? Just… this?
Everything raged inside him. Every thought, every fear, every embarrassment, every frustration, every excitement, every pleasure, every feeling of anger, envy, self-pity, self-loathing, all churned inside him. He bellowed into the void, “WHAT IS THIS?”
There was no echo. No response.
“WHAT AM I FOR?”
“WHAT CAN I DO?”
“HOW CAN THIS END?”
The questions in his head ceased. A vortex of noise rose from a whisper to a cacophony, every voice of every person who George had ever affected was speaking all at once. Everyone whose life he had changed by virtue of simply being in it was speaking to him through the maelstrom of mutterings, cries, shouts and even measured tones. He could not grasp any sentences but the words filled his head. There were words of anger, of pain, of fear. There were words of hope, of caring, of compassion. There were words of love, of desire, of passion. There were words of teaching, of instruction, of guidance. But jumbled together he could make no sense of them, the noise was becoming unbearable. His head hurt. He thought about jumping. I’ll do it, he thought aloud, don’t think I won’t.
The words grew louder. He could feel himself about to explode or collapse. He leant slightly forward, ready to let himself go. The words all revolved rapidly around his head and merged into one sentence. Every voice spoke as one and every voice meant it. George’s family and friends and acquaintances were all speaking to him. People he had yet to meet, people he might never meet, people who had died before he even came into being, were all speaking to him. The universe was speaking to him. And they all said one thing:
“George… I love you.”
Stunned, George stopped thinking. He felt his heart swell. A lone tear trickled down his cheek.
And he fell.
George became alert with a jolt. His arse was numb, his legs stiff, and the cold breeze on his exposed face penetrated down to his bones. She was looking at him quizzically. The pretty girl he’d met at the start of the year was sitting next to him, taking some amusement at him falling asleep where he sat. There was a whole world in those eyes, a world he wished to explore. His face was on fire, George was surprised that the heat was not melting the snow for miles around, he felt her eyes piercing through to his soul, every insecurity and lack of achievement was boiling inside him, bubbling up to the surface for the world in her eyes to see. He heard a faint rustling. A cracking sound brought him back to reality. There, he saw a hand extended to him, holding a piece of chocolate. Fruit and Nut – his favourite.
The smile on her face and the taste of the chocolate combined to bring George to his senses. He noticed a small, white ball of fluff frolicking in the soft snow, noticeable because of the flopping, pink tongue bouncing around. The girl had a dog, or something resembling a smaller version of a dog (George didn’t really consider anything that small to really be a dog). They chatted for a short amount of time, enough to keep George thinking for the rest of the day, but she really wanted to sledge down the hill so George agreed to take it in turns. As he watched her slowly picking up speed in her cheap, plastic sledge, the living snowball she called a dog chasing after her, tongue lolling, George smiled genuinely for the first time in what felt a very long time. Perhaps tomorrow, he thought, I’ll swim to the end of the world, but not today. Today is good.