The End

Dylan Stuflick

The yellow tennis ball flew through the air, finally coming to a bouncing stop as it hit the dusty ground, a few scraggly weeds poking through the hard-packed earth the only visible vegetation. A burnished copper blur raced after the tennis ball, catching up to it and slowing down just long enough to pick the ball up before sprinting back.

Waiting for the energetic blur was an old, wrinkled figure perched in a faded blue camping chair. As the dog finally slowed down to drop the ball in the man’s lap and sit patiently at his feet, the man’s weathered hand reached down to pet the dog’s head. Before the man could throw the ball and repeat the cycle, the dog suddenly perked up and looked toward an unknown point behind the man.

Turning his head, the man spied another figure approaching the border of his decrepit kingdom, the decay abruptly stopping in an almost perfect line as his lawn ended and his neighbor’s lawn started, the weeds falling off into a perfectly green lawn. Walking across that uniform lawn was another man, his image an almost exact opposite of the man who called the unkempt lawn his own. Where one wore dirty jeans and a white tank top; the other wore khakis and a plaid button-up shirt. Where one left his hair to the whims of nature and a shaky hand, the other’s was trimmed with a precision mirrored by his green lawn.

The ragged man’s dog trotted toward the other, but refused to cross the border onto the mysteriously perfect lawn of their neighbor. The other man also stopped before the line and refused to acknowledge the dog that sat patiently at his feet. His eyes turned toward the now-approaching man in his dirt-smeared jeans and white tank top, with little attempt to mask the hostility plastered across his features.

“When are you gonna clean this place up? I know a guy that could do it for you real nice. I’d be willing to cover some of the costs if that’s a problem too. I … ” He paused for a moment. Before he could continue his thought, the man in the weeds interrupted him.

“I don’t need any of your help. My yard does just fine at the moment, I’d rather spend my time and energy on other things.” He squatted down in his weed-ridden lawn to pet his dog, his attention diverted from the flustered man standing above him.

“Look, me… and some of the neighbors think it’s in the … best interest of the community if you maybe … cleaned up a little?” The last word turned probing. The man seemed almost fearful of the reaction his words would cause— perhaps some kind of retaliation— but none came and the ragged man just smiled in return.

“I just don’t see the use, is all. There are much more pressing matters in the world than a nicely manicured lawn and a fresh coat of paint.” He stood back up and turned toward the other man, “If life as we know it is just going to end soon, why should I care about stuff like that? I should be getting everything ready, not stressing over what other people think of my lawn.”

“Again with this stuff, Terry? The world’s not gonna end anytime soon; you’re wasting your time on bunkers and beef jerky. You need to make something out of yourself.” The perfectly-groomed man seemed to grow exasperated. “We’re just trying to help you out here. You can do better than this.”

He seemed to pause slightly before answering the barrage of questions. “You know, Wayne, in a couple of days you’ll realize how wrong you are. While I’m living the rest of my days out with three square meals a day and a comfortable bed to sleep in, you’ll be under the full blast of a super-flare, getting roasted like chicken in a microwave.”

“Terry, I don’t even know what a super-flare is, let alone believe it’s ever going to happen.” He was beginning to grow impatient and was now spitting out his words. “Listen, you want to screw your life over, go ahead.” With this last comment, Wayne turned and walked briskly back across his pristine lawn and slammed the door to his patio shut.
As the door shook in its frame, a young girl with chocolate brown hair falling just past her shoulders jumped down from where she had been watching the confrontation.

Terry paused for a moment before turning towards his fading house, the paint peeling from dirty white walls, a patchwork quilt of roof tiles pitched above it. A few sparse windows sat there, dark and lifeless, the shades drawn inside. Most of the house was blanketed in the shadows cast by a massive oak tree that had clawed itself out of the ground and twisted around itself, stretching its grasping claws over the house. Terry, though, seemed ignorant of his house’s obvious state of dilapidation and continued in through the back door, his dog following close behind him.
As the door swung shut behind him, Terry meandered further into his home, dust coating every surface save the floor, small dust motes floating in between bars of light that flowed like amber waterfalls from between drawn curtains. Ignoring the light switch, Terry walked further into the house until he came to the one sturdy door in the house that didn’t have paint peeling off it like a man’s skin in the throes of leprosy.

As his hand rested on the polished metal handle of the door though, a knock sounded from the front door. Confused, Terry waited for the knock to echo down his shadowy halls again. In just a few seconds, it came again, this time more enthusiastically. Pausing for one more second, he walked to the front door as the knocking came again. As he began to throw open the door, ready to scream at the figure that was too impatient to wait more than 10 seconds for the door to open.

“What do y-” The words died on his lips as his eyes looked down to find a mop of chocolate brown hair framing a small child’s face, the same child that had been watching his exchange with the neighbor from before.

“Afternoon, sir! My name’s Leila, and I was wondering if I could … uhhh … pet your dog?” She peeked expectantly around him to try to see the brown blur she had glimpsed from her perch in the window before, but to no avail.

For a moment, he almost gave in; the indecision danced across his face for a split second before it vanished like a breath of cold air on a hot summer day, blown away in the face of a much greater force. His jaw set and a hard look passed over his face before he offered a terse “no” and gently shut the door on its squeaking hinges as the girl stood there, crestfallen.

The small, meek voice that could barely be heard through the closed door almost broke him as it pleaded one more time for just a closer look. He stopped there, his resolve almost breaking before he heard the telltale signs of small pattering feet walking down the stairs and away from his weed-ridden lawn and its rotted, creaking wood, back down the street to another well-maintained house.

Eventually, he continued back into the shadowy recesses of his dark alcove, back to the one door that had a fresh coat of paint, its brass doorknob shining in the dim light. He paused with his hand on the door for another brief moment before turning the knob and pulling the door open, revealing steps leading deeper into the shadowy house.

Once again ignoring the light switch at the top of the steps, Terry descended the stairs, taking each step carefully until he reached a studded metal door, standing quietly in the narrow white hall. As he stood at the bottom of the steps a weight almost seemed to lift off his shoulders.

He slowly eased himself down onto the bottom step, reveling in the knowledge that when the end did come, he had somewhere safe to go, that when the day of days would come, he could sit, and live out the rest of his days, spitting in Mother Nature’s eye for trying to wipe him off the face of the planet. He would lay down in his bed and sleep peacefully, content with what he had done in life, confident in the knowledge that he could hold onto life until the very last day, kicking and screaming, grasping at every chance he could until his nails bled and Death took him from this life and into his cold grasp at last. But it would be on his own terms, not Death’s.

But the peace did not last for long, soon his thoughts turned towards the little girl. It was so much easier to turn his back on the world when they were filled with men and women like his neighbor, but when he knew there were some still full of childhood innocence, that decision seemed to gain much more weight.

Too soon, he stood back up and walked slowly back up the steps to return to the real world of both innocence and malice, away from the security of solidarity. But there were things that needed to be done before he could live out the rest of his days in peace.