I never thought I would be responsible for the end of the world. Hell, I never even thought I would get to witness it. I always thought I would be dead long before then. Well, in a way I was right. I was dead.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I know I have a lot of explaining to do. So how does one come to commit such a major screwup? Well, I would be lying if I said that question had an easy answer. Quite frankly, it’s damn complicated. So I’m afraid I won’t be able to provide you with a brief answer to the question.
Allow me to begin with what I feel is the most logical starting point for displaying the progression of events leading up to the apocalypse. Thus, I will begin with an end that brought a new beginning. I will begin with the day I died.
It all started with a dream.
* * *
Tick-tock. Tick-tock. An invisible clock drummed softly in the darkness of the dream.
Even without seeing the clock, I knew what time it was. It was 12:58. Just forty-nine seconds till 12:59. Forty-nine seconds till death.
Oh, well. It wasn’t like I had anything to live for anyways.
“Nothing?” a voice said.
“Yes. Nothing,” I replied.
“But how can you be so sure?”
“I think I know myself well enough to be sure.”
“Alright,” she said. “Then I guess you shouldn’t be afraid to die, right?”
“That’s right.” I forced back the tears. “I’m not afraid. After all, I have nothing to lose, so why should I be afraid?”
“Then why are you shaking? Why are you softly praying it isn’t true?”
“What do you know? I don’t even know who you are, so how can you even begin to say that you know me?”
“You’re right,” she said. “I don’t know you, but it appears that not even you know yourself. Though at the same time, I feel that I don’t know myself either. But I think maybe…maybe if we knew each other, things wouldn’t be so bad because we could each have someone out there who knows us.”
“And why should I trust you?” I asked. “I can’t even see you.”
“Because I’m just like you,” she said, “lost in the darkness.”
The shadows cleared away, allowing me to see her. She had white angelic wings and a glowing golden halo above her head. Her long silver hair flowed down past her knees, her elegant white dress shining like the reflection of the sun off blankets of snow.
She reached her hand out to me and beckoned with a soft smile.
My heart strengthened its beat. My breaths slowed.
Time stood frozen in the silence.
I stared into her eyes, mesmerized by their unusual beauty, their unusual pale silver color with hints of blue and green, shining with a soft silver light.
“I see.” I broke the silence with a whisper.
I stepped forward, but it was already three seconds till 12:59—three seconds till death.
And the morning swallowed the dream in its blazing fire.
* * *
Beep! Beep! Beep!
I shot up in bed, gasping for breath. A cold sweat dripped down my back, even though it had only been a dream.
I turned towards the alarm clock. 6:45 AM. Way too damn early. I shut it off and fell back into bed.
I glanced around the room. A super-plain, flat pack shelf surprisingly had the strength to hold a multitude of archaic mathematics texts and heavy-metal, vinyl albums. Stacks of sheet music had taken up occupancy on the carpet floor, and a MIDI keyboard fought with an LCD monitor for desk space. My room was in serious need of a cleaning.
Good thing this wasn’t the afterlife.
“Well, what do you know?” I said. “I’m still alive. Stupid dream.”
“Get out of bed,” a voice said.
It came from my computer. My webcam was staring at me. Genius. Absolutely genius. What kind of idiot programs his computer to pester him to get out of bed in the morning? Me apparently. I suppose there must have been a time when I thought it was cool or clever or something, but now it was just plain annoying. Should probably uninstall it.
I let out a sigh, then stepped out of bed. I had to get ready for work as usual.
It was another day, another boring day, a day of emptiness, a day without happiness, a day without sorrow. And for what? Nothing. That was what. Nothing at all.
There was always something missing.
As I ate breakfast, I stared at the chair in front of me. I would often think about how there were two chairs at my table, yet I lived alone. Every morning, I would stare across the table into that empty chair. It was like staring into a mirror, a table with two chairs, both empty. I always felt as though I were simply a spectator to my own life, watching as my body bled itself dry, and there was no one to clean the blood off the floor.
After breakfast, I got ready for work. I stepped outside the door and locked it behind me. I double-checked it with an attempted turn of the handle. It didn’t budge. Good. Definitely locked.
There are some things you just know when you step outside your front door, but you think you can’t possibly know the future, so you try to bury the thought. And as you try to bury the thought, the voices get louder, screaming at you to go back inside. But you ignore every word and try to shift your attention to something else.
I looked at my watch. 7:33 AM.
Something was unnerving, but I couldn’t figure out what. Today seemed like your average day. Nothing sinister about it. Even the atmosphere was fairly pleasant.
A light morning mist filled the air. If you closed your eyes, you could almost imagine you were at a tropical beach resort, but if you really concentrated that hard, you’d probably catch a whiff of weed from the trailer park across the street. Yup. Nothing unusual about that.
I decided to clear my mind of it. Surely it would be just another day. Another meaningless day. But deep down inside, I knew I was wrong.
* * *
I took my position at the podium and placed my briefcase on top of it. From my briefcase, I pulled out a yellow notepad filled with the day’s lecture notes. I glanced at the clock on the back wall. 7:55 AM. Class would start soon.
More students started to enter the classroom. I had a lot of students in my College Algebra class. It wasn’t really that I was a popular teacher, nor was it that my class was super interesting; most students simply took my class because it was required for their degrees.
When I was younger, I had dreamed that I would make a difference in this world. I told myself that I would do that by becoming a teacher, but really, that wasn’t the truth. I didn’t really feel like I was making much of a difference.
Honestly, I was no closer to my dream now than when I was a child. Perhaps I had actually abandoned it, choosing to live a life of emptiness instead of clinging on to a hopeless dream. It was easier that way at least.
People often ask the question, “What would you do if you only had one day left to live?” And most people would respond with a list of things they’ve always wanted to do. But how many would actually do those things compared to how many would spend that last day trying to convince themselves that they would live to see the next day?
As humans, it’s difficult to accept death. And the more dreams you have that go unfulfilled, the more difficult it becomes. In the end, it’s easier to forget your dreams, to walk into that cold room wearing a blindfold, but once you’re inside, it’s impossible to see the things you may have missed.
Class ended at 8:50 AM. My next class would start in ten minutes, so I prepared my notes for that lecture. So far so good.
The day continued without anything too exciting. As I thought. It was a day of emptiness just like any other.
I didn’t have any classes to teach between 12:00 PM and 2:00 PM, so I used that opportunity to pick up some lunch and afterwards started to head back to the campus at about 12:50 PM.
But as I drove back to work, that feeling of something being amiss returned. The voices shouted at me to turn around. But I didn’t want to hear it, so I tried to shift my attention to something else.
12:58. Just forty-nine seconds till 12:59.
But I couldn’t drown out the voices. Nothing could. Yet I drove on, ignoring each and every word.
As I was stopped at a red light, I realized that I had been wearing the blindfold for a very long time, long before that last day, and all I had to do was take it off, but by then it was too late. I had missed everything.
Green light. I eased my foot on the gas pedal.
My body jerked violently to the side. Then everything went dark.
* * *
Sirens. The smell of burnt rubber. People shouting. Darkness.
I opened my eyes. My vision was blurry, but it started to clear to where I could see clouds in the sky.
I groaned and sat up slowly. I couldn’t figure out what had happened. Clearly I was outside, even though I had been in my car only moments before.
I stood up slowly but froze upon seeing the scene in front of me.
My car was wedged between a semi-truck and an SUV. The driver’s side was completely smashed, and all the windows had shattered. Shards of glass littered the road. But the scariest part was not the scene itself but the fact that I felt completely fine.
I felt no pain at all.
Oh god no. It can’t be. Is this really happening? It can’t be. I can’t possibly be…
Two paramedics helped the driver of the semi-truck out. He wasn’t injured too badly.
“You’re going to be alright, Sir,” one of the paramedics said.
The driver just moaned in acknowledgment.
“Ugh,” the other paramedic said. “He reeks of alcohol. I guess we know what happened here.”
Tears welled in my eyes. I took a good look at the driver’s face. That was a face I’d never forget. I wanted to kill him. Really, I did. But of course, I couldn’t. The dead can’t kill the living. Or so I thought.
“Why?!” I screamed. “Why?! It’s not fair! It’s not fair!”
The thing about being dead is that you can scream as loud as you want and no one will hear you.
And suddenly, I was simply a spectator to my own death, watching as my body bled itself dry. But this time, there was someone to clean the blood off the floor. Of course, it wasn’t out of sympathy. Far from it. It was because the blood was a reminder to the living of the harsh reality of death.
* * *
I spent the next few days wishing it were a dream. I kept thinking of all the things I would do upon waking, but in the end I knew I would never wake up. It was hard being dead.
At first I told myself it wouldn’t be much different from when I had been alive. After all, people usually ignored me anyways. But being ignored and not being able to be heard are completely different. At least when you’re alive, there’s the hope that someone might listen. When you’re dead, there’s no such thing as hope.
It was the day after my funeral, and I stood at my grave in silence, watching the drops of rain fall onto my tombstone. I didn’t want to believe it, but this was really my tombstone.
This was it.
I fell to my knees.
I can’t take it anymore. What am I supposed to do? Surely there has to be more than this? Surely this can’t be how things end? If this is eternal life, I don’t want it. All I want is for someone to hear to me.
“Is there anyone out there who can hear me?!” I shouted towards the sky.
The rain fell from the sky. I watched it for a few minutes as though expecting God to answer. But of course he didn’t. No answer but the rain.
At last, I stood up.
Is there anyone out there who can hear me? Heh. Of course not. I’m dead. There’s nothing more than this. I’m really dead.
“I can hear you,” a voice from behind me said.
I stood up and turned around quickly.
“Who’s there?” I called out. “Who said that?”
The rain pattered on the ground. I looked around expecting to find someone there, but I didn’t see anyone. I was alone. I turned back towards my tombstone.
Did I just imagine that? There’s not really someone there…
I waited a few more minutes.
Looks like I was right. No one’s there.
“Let me guess. You’re probably trying to convince yourself that my voice is a trick of the imagination, aren’t you?”
I hadn’t just imagined it. There really was someone there. What was more, he was standing right behind me. He hadn’t been there before, and I didn’t even notice until now.
“Who are you?!” I turned around quickly.
I stumbled back upon seeing the figure before me. He wore a black, hooded cloak with several fairly-creepy smiley faces sewn around the sleeves and bottom. A symbol was sewn on the front of the hood: a six-sided star composed of two equilateral triangles with an infinity sign in the middle. Six infinity signs radiated from the concave intersections of the star’s points.
I couldn’t see the figure’s face from within his hood, but I assumed it wasn’t a human face. After all, he had black reptilian hands with sharp black claws. Nothing human about that.
“Calm down,” he said. “I’m not going to hurt you. The name’s Nekros. I’m a necromancer.”
The sky lit up.
Thunder sounded in the distance. Now if that doesn’t scream “bad omen,” I don’t know what does (except maybe someone actually screaming “bad omen”).
I took a step back. I could now see yellow dots of light glistening from within his hood. Eyes.
“You don’t trust me?” he said.
“As he shouldn’t!” a man shouted from my left.
I turned to see who had spoken. He was an older man in a long black leather trench coat, a tattered blood-red cape draped over its right side. The left sleeve was missing, and white cloth bandages covered his exposed arm. He had dark pockets under his eyes. Clumps of long black hair dangled over his wrinkled face. He glared at Nekros with a vicious animosity, his eyes glowing red like those of a demon.
“Death!” Nekros stepped away from him.
“Death?” I said. “As in the Grim Reaper?”
“That’s right,” the man said. “That is what your people call me.”
I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just some story after all. The Grim Reaper actually existed. Unless this guy was a total liar—which was the more plausible explanation.
“By the way,” Death said, turning to face me, “you might want to get out of the way. This could get ugly.”
“Yeah, I think I’ll do that,” I said.
I ran off to the side. I wasn’t sure if I should get the hell out of there or stay. After all, I had finally found people who could see and hear me, even if they weren’t exactly human.
“Trying to kill me in front of this spirit?” Nekros said. “Now, that’s not very nice of you. After all, I was just going to offer him a chance to come back to life. It’s what he wants. Would you really deny him that?”
A chance to come back to life?
I liked the sound of that. I would be able to go back and do all the things I had missed. Of course, it sounded too good to be true, so it probably was. Not only that, but the Grim Reaper was standing right there. I was sure he wouldn’t let that happen.
“Don’t listen to him,” Death said.
“Who are you going to trust?” Nekros asked. “Me, who will give you a second chance at life, or the Grim Reaper, who will send you to the afterlife so you can never return to this world?”
Send me to the afterlife? Something wasn’t quite right here.
And then I realized what.
“What the hell?!” I exclaimed. “I’ve been dead for over a week, and you barely come to take me to the afterlife now?!”
“I’m busy you know!” Death said. “Besides, you should consider yourself lucky that you just so happened to be here. If not, it could have been a year or more before you ever saw me.”
“See?” Nekros said. “You should trust me more. I truly have your best interests at heart.”
“Over a year?!” I exclaimed. “What kind of lame crap is that?! You’re a lousy Grim Reaper!”
“Lousy?” he laughed. “You think I’m a lousy Grim Reaper, huh? I doubt you could do any better.”
“Bet I could.”
“Listen to me,” Nekros tried to interrupt.
“Hell, I bet anyone would be better than you.” I ignored him. “A freakin’ year? You have got to be kidding me.”
“If that’s the case…” Death said, “Then from now on, you are the new Grim Reaper!”
“You want to prove yourself? Go for it. I’ll be here to laugh at you when you fail miserably.”
Was he actually going to let me become the Grim Reaper? I wanted to doubt it, but he didn’t really seem to be the joking type. Maybe he just needed an excuse to retire. He did look pretty old, after all. Either way, I couldn’t back down now.
There may come a time in your life when you decide it’s about time for a career change. Maybe you think you need a change of pace, or maybe you lose one of your previous qualifications and find that you’re better qualified for a different job. For me, this was that time.
I decided to change careers from math teacher to Grim Reaper. Qualification number one for being a math teacher? You must be alive. Qualification number one for being the Grim Reaper? You must be dead.
“You want me to prove myself?” I said. “Then I will. I’ll show you that I can be a million times better.”
“Doubt it,” Death snorted.
Actually, I didn’t really know how to be the Grim Reaper. Of course, it couldn’t be too hard if this guy was him.
“You really shouldn’t accept that offer!” Nekros roared.
Suddenly, Nekros’s hands disappeared into his sleeves. A dense, black stream of liquid shot out from within his hood, and his clothes sunk to the ground as though his body were draining away. A black cloud of smoke shrouded an even blacker liquid that danced around on the ground. It was turning into something. And it was getting bigger. Much bigger.
The smoke cleared away, revealing a large dragon, every inch of it black except for the glowing yellow slits of its eyes. It had a shadowy, flaming body, a body made of black fire, its teeth sharp and thin like daggers, its black tongue forked like a snake’s. So that’s what Nekros truly was. He was a dragon.
“Holy.” I took a step back.
Nekros crushed my tombstone under his foot. He let out a roar that sent a spray of rain into my face. His enormous black wings flapped, parting the grass beneath him.
“You should probably run,” Death said. “Now that you’ve decided to become the Grim Reaper, you are his target.”
“You could have told me that sooner!” I exclaimed.
“What are you waiting for? Run!”
I took that advice. I ran as fast as I could.
“You can’t escape!” Nekros’s monstrous voice roared behind me.
I didn’t look back. I had to concentrate all my efforts on running the hell away.
I couldn’t believe it. I was going to die. Again. Assuming that were even possible, of course. Death by car crash as opposed to death by dragon. From normal to absolutely bizarre.
There was no way I could outrun a dragon. It could fly, for god’s sake. And me? Well, let’s just say I was never really that fast of a runner.
Where exactly was I supposed to go? Was there really any place I could hide from that thing? And that bastard Death, he could have at least had the decency to help me out a bit. I was sure he was back there laughing that I was about to become dragon fodder.
I felt someone come up beside me. Wait. No. Not someone. Something.
I knew it. I was going to be slaughtered right here. I glanced to the side, expecting to see Nekros, but it wasn’t him. To be honest, I had no idea what the hell it was.
The creature had a black body like that of a jaguar, except it wasn’t furry. Instead, its skin was slick, almost like that of an amphibian. It didn’t have eyes or a mouth, and two long straight horns protruded from the back of its skull. Strange markings that glowed with a dim, blue light covered its body.
The creature prepared to lunge at me, and the only thought going through my mind was, “Oh, sh—!”
It was going to kill me. I started to wish Nekros had been the one next to me instead.
“Hexaforce!” Death shouted from somewhere behind.
An invisible something-or-other slammed into the creature, knocking it over a hundred feet away. I stopped and turned to face Death.
“Now I will make you a reaper!” He ran towards me.
He slammed his palm onto my forehead, sending me flying back. I landed on the ground with a thud.
“Gyaah!” I screamed in agony.
It felt as though worms were writhing in my brain, trying to burst out of my skull, plowing through anything they could, whether it be flesh or bone. Black liquid shot up around me, swirling in a torrent, its streams cutting through my flesh. I thought for sure this was the end. I was going to be devoured by my own body.
Then everything went dark.
I heard a high-pitched squeal similar to the kind a television makes.
An image of the symbol I had seen on Nekros’s hood burned into my memory. I could see it written in blood. Somehow, I knew that it was called the Symbol of Eternity.
White noise drowned out the high-pitched squeal.
Then I saw and heard absolutely nothing.
It was true emptiness.
Suddenly, my vision and hearing returned. The black liquid was gone, and I no longer felt any pain. Black smoke surrounded me, then cleared away.
I felt immense power surging through me. Surely I was now at least a hundred times stronger than any normal human. It felt as though I could do anything.
Death was staring at me. I glanced to the side. The creature returned to its feet.
“Now then.” I smiled. “Let’s get started, shall we?”