The Boy at the End of the World
Ee Pin Pang
There once was a boy called Tim. He was ten years old, a red-haired, gangly boy with the usual assortment of awkward elbows and sniffling nose. He liked collecting Liverpool soccer star stickers, though he did not know why they hardly ever won. He also loved to pick up the occasional odd-looking pebble on the ground, and kept these in a small pail in the back of his small bedroom. Finally, he loved asking questions. Why was the sky blue? Why did cats have nine lives? How do the birds and bees do it? These questions he asked both amused and irritated his teachers and parents and peers. They would say, "Tim, you'll find out one day," and pat him on the head, give him a long look and Tim knew he should not ask anymore. But he always asked again later.
One day, Tim was in his schoolroom, listening to Mr. Garthy explain about the wonders of the universe, the sun, the planets, stars, moons and all that. It was really rather fascinating. So was Susie Williams sitting in front of him, she with her red curls and deep green eyes (but that's a story for later). Tim loved this lesson -- it expanded his world from the narrow confines of home and school to infinity. He soaked up all the information about the solar system, the nine planets and how round the Earth was.
That was where his habit kicked in again. He put up his hand.
Mr. Garthy was ready for Tim's daily questions. "Yes, Tim?"
"Sir? Is there an end to the world? Or if that's bad English, an end of the world? And what's there?" Tim asked rather matter-of-factly.
Mr. Garthy laughed, and laughed and laughed until his face was the color of a ripe tomato. The whole class sniggered, giggled and chortled along. When he finally calmed down, he bellowed, "The end of the world? My dear boy! Haven't you been listening? There is no end of the world! The Earth is round, one end links to the other, like a ring. There is no end!" He grinned and continued on with the suns, moons and stars. Tim listened half-heartedly as being ridiculed did not sit well with any boy of ten years.
When class ended, everybody went for lunch in the canteen. There, Tim asked all his friends, teachers and even the canteen chef if there was an end of the world. His friends laughed in his face and called him a fool, his teachers patted him on the head and assured him the obvious.
Only the canteen chef ventured some information. "You don't want to find The End, lad," she said, her plump, usually jolly face suddenly serious. "The End is not a place for someone as young as you. It is full of despair, depression, death, temptation. It is the home of the devil, of fallen angels cast down for defying our Father, of the demons that lurk under the beds and in the cupboards. It is not a place for mortals, much less a boy." She would say no more.
Tim was intrigued, perturbed and tempted all at the same time. He needed to know more about the end of the world. He needed to find out where it was and why it was shunned by everybody.
He found himself in the library an hour later sitting by a computer, surfing the internet for information. He typed in "the end of the world" in the search engine provided and clicked "Go". It took him 3.714656 seconds to get fifty thousand sites. (It was a good thing that he had used quotation marks to search for the exact phrase.)
That was the easy part, he supposed. Now he had to find one that was actually related to what he was looking for. Hours passed by and it was almost time for the library to close. Tim had discarded hundreds of useless links and was lamenting on how he would not get his answer after all. Just then, one of the few thousand links caught his eye. It was a link to the site "The site of the book of the dead". Tim clicked on it and a black, rather poorly-done webpage popped out. It had pictures of skeletons and ghosts and zombies with half-eaten brains all over. He scanned through the site, squinting at the dark text on the darker background, and found a small section on the end of the world,. He highlighted the passage (wishing he'd thought of that earlier) and read:
Follow the white road,
tread past the fox of quick slyness,
through (silently) the forest of whispers,
into the cave of fulfilled slumber
and under the rainbow.
There, the end of the world waits,
the crevice of eternal eternals,
BE THERE OR BE SQUARE
- The Book of the Dead Chapter Seven (Finding the end of the world made easy)
Beneath it was another line of text in a tinier letters (if he hadn't highlighted them, he would have missed them entirely): "Just go to Kensington Road near the old St. Andrew's Church in Liverpool. First step's there." Tim laughed. He was on his way! He hurriedly printed out the directions and stuffed the paper in his orange schoolbag before running home. At home, he asked his mother whether she knew where the end of the world was.
"The end of the world?" she repeated, while pouring some apple juice for him and another three fingers of vodka for herself. "Is that what they teach you in school now?" She downed the vodka and went upstairs to cry again. Tim knew the conversation was at an end and went into his room.
He had thought about asking his mother to drive him to the location named on the website, but she'd lost her driver's license after the last few incidents of drunk-driving. Tim had to think of something else and he did think... for two minutes, before deciding to go to the end of the world himself. It should not be hard, he reasoned as he took out his orange haversack, it was in Liverpool! He could go there during the weekend and come back by Monday. He took out his ultra-super-extremely-super-very secret piggy bank and broke it. It had about fifty pounds and sixty pence within. He put the money in his pocket. He packed in some sweaters for the cold, five extra shirts and pants to be safe, and plenty of undergarments. He stuffed in his favourite blanket zipped up the bag. He scrawled a note that said: "Off to see the end of the world, will be back soon, Monday I guess," then, orange bag on his back, Tim left the house. He was so excited.
Tim wiped his brow with a dirty handkerchief and surveyed the scene before him. He traced a line following the giant rainbow in front of him. Its seven colours rippled and danced across the dirty yellow of the sun. It was a pretty sight. Tim would have enjoyed it more if he wasn’t so tired. And if his feet weren’t so sore. He took some steps forward, his torn and tattered sneakers offering no comfort. These shoes were made to fit a boy of eleven, even twelve years of age. They definitely were not meant for one going on fourteen. He wasn't exactly sure how old he was, but he knew with an inner certainty that he was no longer ten. The trip had taken a little longer than expected, though he still had enjoyed it thoroughly. There were times however, he wished that he had food other than the bugs and squirrels that he could catch, or that he could wake up with no centipedes and scorpions on his body, or that he had brought along all his undergarments instead of just a few sets. But the trip was still good; long, but good.
Tim had taken Charlie’s Bus Rides to Kensington Road and found St. Andrew's Church, and the white road next to it. He had followed that road for days, eating all he had brought with him, then settling for whatever he could find.
He had met the Sly Fox of a Thousand Riddles and saved himself from being dinner with a riddle the fox could not answer. He had run through the Forest of Whispers with his hands over his ears to block out the slivers of worldly secrets that the trees whispered to each other.
Then he had stumbled into the darkness of the Cave of Fulfilled Slumber, and had wandered, lost, weary and near exhaustion, starvation and every other word that ended with -tion, before collapsing into a dream-filled stupor. Tim had awoken many years later, how many, he was not certain. But he knew he had had a good long rest, for once without his mother hurrying him off to school or church or anywhere but bed. He had chanced upon pieces of bread mysteriously left on the floor for him -- a nice change from bugs and squirrels, although the faint greenish glow was a little off-putting. As he ate, he had noticed that the bread formed a sort of trail -- and following it led to the cave exit, a bright shaft of light that promised salvation and more. When he had gotten out, he cried, first from the pain of sun-glare in his darkness-adjusted eyes, but then from joy and relief. Then, when the tears had left their dried stains on his tight and torn ‘Flintstones’ T-shirt, he had continued on the white road until he reached the rainbow.
This was it. This was the final part to cross. After this would be his destination.
Tim looked at the rainbow again. From what he knew about rainbows (from the Discovery Channel and whatever books he could get his hands on, legally or otherwise), rainbows were made of light and did not really exist -- which meant that nobody could find the end of a rainbow either. That was the rule. But this one looked quite solid, and didn't recede as he moved toward it. He hobbled to the definite end of the rainbow, right behind some bushes, and rapped it hard with his knuckles. The knock that sounded when two real objects hit each other dispelled everything he had ever learnt about rainbows. This particular one was most definitely real. Tim shrugged and walked under the rainbow into the green fields ahead.
It was a carnival. A carnival of monsters of all shapes, sizes, colours and dreams. The monsters beyond Dream’s design were all trapped within cages of silver, which was why the place seemed like the zoo Brad’s family used to take him when his own mother was drunk and sleeping on the sofa. The monsters were ugly, misshapen and vulgar to the mind. Tim recognized the monsters that crept under beds and in closets, their sharp teeth scraping against each other as they roared and wailed. There were monsters Tim would sometimes find hiding behind him, as he walked from school back home. They would stay at a distance, always at the corner of his eye, always vanishing when he turned around. He could see the small ones that dwelled in peoples’ hearts and minds, whispering and plotting and whispering until the people screamed for an eternity. He had once seen the monster within his mother and wondered where it had come from. He knew now.
Here, in their cages, the monsters wanted out. They desired freedom. The big ones rammed against the cage bars repeatedly, hoping to spring themselves free through sheer force. Those that could talk screamed out at Tim to help them. They promised gold, riches, love, eternal life, and in their own words which Tim barely understood, wanton pleasures beyond his mortal imagination. The monsters promised him the world if he would just let them out! Out to join their brothers that Pandora set free, out to plunge the world into eternal darkness, out to cause mayhem and destruction wherever and whenever. Tim walked on, hands covering his ears to block out the wails of despair and threats of vengeance. He strode on, ignoring the monster pens, until he encountered the cages that held other beings.
This time, Tim did stop and look. Who wouldn’t? These beings were of light and hope and all that the world had taught him. These beings were angels! They were the creatures of God’s work, showcased in picture books, in Christmas cartoon specials, in the prayers of almost every boy and girl in the world. Tim approached them and watched in wonder at these beautiful figments of the Creator’s imagination. The angels shone like the fabled aurora and he knew they were real, even though they did not have halos and each had only one wing on its back. The angels all sat silently in a circle within a large cage of gold. One of them looked up and turned towards Tim, who was now standing just outside the bars. The angel crawled towards Tim slowly and painfully and pressed its face onto the bars. Tim could see its elfin face, so perfect, pure and achingly sad. Its eyes kept changing colours, a million rainbows within its perfectly formed eyes. A tear fell from an eye and clung onto its unblemished skin before slipping away. The angel spoke, its voice light and gentle, yet touched greatly by the pain and sorrow that lasted forever.
"We fell," it sang, "We fell. And we can never arise again."
The angel crawled away from the golden bars and rejoined its companions. Tim tore himself from the scene before him and walked on, his heart tinged with pity, sadness and childish wonder.
As Tim moved on, he noticed the changes that were occurring. For starters, the sky had turned red and the air was getting much hotter. He quickened his steps for he knew he was close. He was almost at a run now, the abuse his feet were under worried him not at the moment. And then, there it was. The road had ended before him, the red sky and ground suddenly reaching their edge, their end. And all Tim could see…was nothing. An endless abyss of darkness, punctuated by the universe’s children, glittering stars that symbolised worlds beyond his own. It was indescribable. He knew one had to there to actually feel the wonder of infinity, at the same time experience the crushing emotion of insignificance. This was the end of the world. He was there.
Tim ran down the road, his hands fumbling for the haversack zipper, eager to take out the disposable Kodak camera and engrave the sight before him in full 35mm coloured glory. He stopped abruptly at the world’s edge, almost teetering off the side before regaining balance once more. He looked down as all people do when faced with an edge with nothingness below. Sure enough, there stretched only infinity. Tim grinned tiredly and took out the camera. He placed the viewfinder to his eye and thumbed the shutter button. Clicks echoed throughout eternity until Tim was satisfied and reached to place the camera back into the bag. It was there, at that exact moment, right before the end of the world, the worst of the worst kind of tragedy struck the boy of unknown age. The Kodak camera, which contained the world’s greatest find in all history after the automobile and maybe electricity, slipped out of Tim’s excited hands and into the endless forever. Now, Tim had faced many trials and had encountered despair in endless forms, but none attacked him with the ferocity he was feeling presently. He was about to jump in (or out) after the lost camera when a voice interrupted his urgency and brought him back to some semblance of eternity.
"You won’t come back if you jump. It’s a long fall," the voice cautioned. It was identical to the voice of the angel before, tinged with the same sadness, only this time, roughened by the experience of the world. Tim sighted a man, sitting at the edge, legs dangling out. The man turned to look at the boy, and got up slowly. Tim saw wavy hair coloured similar to endless corn fields up to the chin. He saw the man’s rainbow eyes and perfect face. He noticed the robes the man wore which were of crimson red splashed on the white of pureness. And when Tim blinked, he thought he saw black wings unfolded the man’s back, which remained as thoughts because they vanished in an instant.
"Who are you?" Tim asked cautiously, as children weren’t supposed to talk to strangers, angels or not.
"Me?" the man whom Tim thought was an angel said, "My name’s Lucifer." He looked the boy over. "They sure are getting younger every time," he commented sadly. "So here we are at the End of the World once again. What’s your desire? Money? Fame? Love? Anything and everything is yours. No strings attached. Not even your soul. So what’s it to be boy?"
Tim stayed silent.
"Don’t get all righteous with me. There aren’t any strings attached. The guy who wanted money died of the mob dealings he stupidly made. The one who got his fame hung himself cause he couldn’t take the pressure. A man got his love’s desire, and his love’s wrath as well. Especially when he cheated on her. It isn’t my fault things don’t work out. I only do what I think the big guy wants me to do." Lucifer shook his head mournfully.
"I’m not all right with people dying as well. Never did. So what is it to be? You came all this way, give me your wish."
Tim thought this over. He thought of all the things he could do with a wish. He could know everything. He had always wanted that. But then again, life would get boring and he would probably kill himself as well. He could make his mother happy again, and sober too. Or he could make Susie Williams like him. Or save the world! He could make everybody happy! But somehow, deep inside, he knew it would not do. No matter what happened. He just knew. There was no question about it. So he made his wish.
"Mr. Lucifer?" Tim said in a slightly quavering voice one had when talking to adults, "Sir? I -- er -- wish for my camera with all my pictures back."
Silence reigned for a long, long time.
"Is that all that you want, boy?" Lucifer queried, bewildered by the trivial wish.
"If it’s not too much trouble sir."
Lucifer nodded slowly and snapped his fingers. And just like that, Tim felt his bag’s contents shift. He opened it hurriedly and sure enough, the camera was there, lying snugly among torn clothes. He thanked Lucifer profusely.
Lucifer shook his head and asked in his angel (not angelic) voice, "I offered you anything you desired. I offered you the world, the universe, your dreams. And you wish for a camera. Why?"
Tim faced the man. "This is my dream sir. To see the end of the world," he replied rather matter-of-factly.
Lucifer walked up to the boy and ruffled his lice-infested crop of hair. "You’re all right, boy. Fills me with hope in Man once again. Not a bad feeling I might add. Maybe I’ll watch out for you, shower you with blessings here and there in the future." He pointed at the white road behind them. "Now go boy. Just follow the road and you’ll reach home, wherever it is." The fallen angel of disrepute glanced at the endless blackboard of stars, "Beautiful isn’t it?"
"It sure is, sir," Tim replied and hefted his haversack on his back before making his way towards the road. When he got to it, he gave one last look behind. The end of the world loomed beyond and Tim smiled. Then he took a step on the white road…
…and found himself in front of the rainbow and the cries of forgotten monsters. The second step…
…took him to the entrance of the Cave of Fulfilled Slumber. The next step…
…brought him to the Forest of Whispers while the fourth step…
…took him next to the sly fox, who was still weeping and howling for the riddle that he could not answer. Tim watched the fox pitifully and strode up to him, whispering the answer into its ear before taking his last step…
…which ended outside his small brown house of comforting and cosy size.
Tim looked around. Things seem as they were when he had left. The streets hadn’t changed a bit. He walked slowly towards the house, barely believing that he was actually home. He picked up the new newspaper left next to his mailbox. It read "Monday, 17th November 1982", exactly the weekend after he had left. Nothing had changed. He placed the newspaper in his bag and marched purposefully to the front door. He was already thinking of the things he would do later as he turned the doorknob. He would give his sleeping mother a hug and tell her he loved her, then go develop the photographs. But before that, he had homework to do. The photographs could wait.
© 2005 by Ee Pin Pang
Ee Pin Pang is a struggling writer-wannabe/bookseller who wants to pluck a star out of the sky. A passionate devotee of David Gemmel and Neil Gaiman, he tries to infuse his works with their ideals and blessings. So far, he says he hasn't reached this goal. But he tries... he tries...
E-mail: Ee Pin Pang
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