The Beginning of the End
When the universe asks for a favor, it’s best to comply
This story was inspired by R.E.M.’s song, It’s the End of the World as We Know It.
“That’s your handwriting, babe. I’d recognize it anywhere.” Rachel traced her fingers along the faded blue letters while I peered into the empty Coke bottle. The world through the glass looked distorted and green, but there was nothing special about the bottle, except that it was an old-style one whose shape had evolved to perfectly match a human hand.
We found the bottle bobbing fitfully in the chaotic space where sea meets land.
“It can’t be,” I replied. “It’s a trick. Read the note again, please.”
Rachel brushed the sand off her arms. “You MUST put this letter and bottle in the ocean. Seal it tightly. There’s a temporal current in the Pacific, which carries it to you from the past.” — Stefan Grolier, May 11, 2002”
I’m Stefan Grolier.
That was it. No explanation or elaboration. A command from me to me. Today was June 2, 2022. I had no memory of tossing a bottle into the ocean or writing that cryptic directive. A Kansas boy, my first visit to a beach wasn’t until I graduated from college, years after 2002.
Rachel shaded her eyes and raised her head toward the sun.
I tapped her arm. “Don’t. You’ll hurt your eyes.” Rachel’s shoulders were already crisp from sunbathing. I made a mental note to buy aloe in the hotel gift shop.
“There’s supposed to be an eclipse now.” She flicked her wrist, tapped her Apple watch a few times, and aimed it my way. The lines on her forehead resembled the beach’s sand drifts. “See. Astronomy Today’s website says a total solar eclipse will be visible in this part of Hawaii. But there’s no eclipse, babe.”
She frowned and returned her gaze to the note. “What do you think we should do about the message?” Without waiting for me to answer, she continued, “I think we should recap the bottle and return it to the ocean like the note said.”
I don’t like being told what to do, even by myself. I shook my head and gently squeezed Rachel’s hand. “Let’s get the bottle out of our sight and enjoy our vacation. Let’s sink it.”
“That feels wrong, but it’s your note, so you decide.”
I rolled the letter and slid it back into the bottle, but left the cork off.
I scooped out a trough of sand with my toes. I wedged the bottle into that space, did my best placekicker impersonation, and watched the sunlight reflecting off the glass as it spun through the air. The space around the bottle scintillated like a flying sparkler. The bottle splashed into the ocean, bobbed for a few seconds, caught a wave, and sank. I looked around. It probably wasn’t cool, and likely illegal, to litter the ocean, even if the bottle had originated there in the first place. Nobody saw me, though.
The earth rattled, then shook with escalating fierceness. As the sand liquefied, birds fell from the sky, and snakes poked their heads out of the ground. An airplane exploded above us, sending fiery shrapnel in every direction. There was a sudden hush. I wrapped my arms around Rachel and held her tight, sharing the transient calmness of a hurricane’s eye. I should have been afraid, but I wasn't. Surprisingly, I felt fine.
If you enjoyed The Beginning of the End, I think you’ll like my story, Gerald Gray’s To-Do List.
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