I was alone in the hotel room when it happened.
It wasn’t even a nice hotel; it was one of those with chipped paintwork and a faint whiff of mould everywhere and a TV tuned to no known station. The shower-head dripped – bop, bop, bop – like the tapping finger of Death himself, and the door wouldn’t lock unless I bashed it with my shoulder. Eloïse – my wife, or former wife I suppose I should say – would’ve hated it on sight.
Not that any of that matters, now.
I’d just taken off my watch, absent-mindedly rubbing my wrist (I’m not sure why I ever did that. It’s not like my watch was too tight, or uncomfortable. It just seemed like the thing to do, you know, like get married or get a dog or buy a new car because Next Door bought one) when I thought to look out the window. It was going for dark, the sky faintly pink on the far horizon, and the lights popping into life all the way up the driveway, like eyes opening. It had been a nice day – just as well, really – so the sky was still that hazy blue you sometimes get in late summer.
Then, it all changed.
The best way I can describe it is this: it was like the sky was made of celluloid film – remember that stuff? I do – and someone had taken a naked flame to it. The light blue started to blacken and bubble overhead, and then it ripped and began to melt away like a wormhole opening. There was nothing behind it. I don’t mean ‘nothing’ as in ‘blackness’ – I mean nothing, the kind of nothing that means you’re sure someone has made a huge mistake which will need sorting, and the kind of nothing that drives you to your bed-side telephone and that makes your shaking fingers dial ‘0’ for Reception.
‘Good evening, sir. May I help you?’
‘Yes. This is Jeremy Evans, room 353.’
‘Thank you, sir – yes, I see that. What may I help you with this evening?’
‘It’s just – I mean, have you looked outside? At the sky?’
‘A lovely evening, sir, I do agree.’
‘No! I mean, I’m sorry. Look. I mean, look. At the sky! It’s melting!’
‘Yes, sir. Is everything all right, sir? Do you require assistance?’
‘Just look, man, will you? Am I the only one seeing this?’
‘I’m just alerting our medical team, sir, and someone will be with you shortly. All right? You just sit tight, now, and hold the line.’
‘I don’t need a doctor, you imbecile! Something has exploded, or something, in the sky. Shouldn’t we phone someone? The government? MI6? Or MI5? What’s the difference between MI5 and MI6 anyway?’
‘I’m sure I wouldn’t know, sir. Now, have you taken anything today? Drugs or medications, sir?’
‘Look, I’m hanging up. This is stupid. The sky is melting, and all you can do is ask me if I’m on something? Goodbye.’
‘But sir -‘
I cut him off and wandered back to the window, barely daring to blink. The sky was blackening now, its edges on fire. The hole of nothing was sucking at me. I felt my eyes bulge out of my skull and my lungs start to deflate. Distantly I heard screaming as people began to fly upwards, sucked into this terrible maw of death. Trees uprooted. A coach – double decker, too – flipped end over end and slid right into the hole. The blackened circle grew wider as the world began to smell of burning and ash, and everything began to wrinkle and decay.
A knock on the door.
‘Sir? Mr Evans, sir? It’s George the porter ‘ere, and Elsie, th’staff nurse. Sir?’
‘Mr Evans, this is Elsie. All right, love? You’ll open the door, won’t you?’
I didn’t answer. My eyes were shaking with the effort of keeping them focused. The blackened bite in the sky was now bigger than my field of vision. I had to turn my head to see the edges of it, and it was growing fast.
‘All right. Use the master, yeah? He’s not answerin’.’ I barely heard the mumbles and the clatterings as they entered the room. The nurse was a strong-looking woman of at least fifty, her uniform crisp as a snowflake. She seemed kind.
‘Mr Evans, love. Let’s get you into bed, all right? I’ll give you a little something to ease you through, okay? Just a little something.’
I blinked my red-hot eyes and closed my desert-dry mouth for long enough to look at her properly.
‘Ease?’ I croaked. ‘Ease me through?’
‘The end of the world, silly,’ she smiled, preparing a syringe. It gleamed in the reddish light from outside. ‘You haven’t taken any other drugs or medications today, have you, love? Only they can make this jab hurt just a little.’
‘What?’ My voice sounded like it had been through a sieve. How had it grown so hot in here? ‘End of the world?’
‘Happens reg’lar round here, love,’ she said, flicking at the needle. Satisfied, she lowered it to my arm. ‘Hasn’t been one now for, ooh – what would you say, George? Hundred million years, something like that?’
‘Couldn’t say for sure, Else,’ shrugged the porter. ‘Hunnerd mill sounds ’bout right, though.’
‘Call it a hundred million years, then,’ she said, sliding the needle home. Its sting felt like a spider-bite, and my heart instantly began to slow.
They laid me out on the bed and I let my head slump to one side, allowing me to watch them as they walked to the window. They stood either side of it like angels at the doorway to Eden, their faces glowing as the world burned.
‘Be a long wait now till next time, Else,’ murmured George.
‘Right you are, sunshine,’ she sighed. ‘Right you are.’
‘Wonder how it’ll all shake out?’ George mused. ‘Where we’ll be, what we’ll be doin’.’
‘Don’t you mind,’ said Elsie, reaching across to chuck him under the chin. ‘I’m sure it’ll be you an’ me against the world, Georgie-pie, same as always.’
‘Business as usual in the ‘Otel Finisterre, eh?’ chuckled George.
‘You’ve said it now, my duck. You’ve said it now. Ooh – look! Here we go. Right, Mr Evans – take a deep breath, love. Soon be over! Won’t hurt a bit.’
She lied about the ‘won’t hurt a bit’ part, but about everything else, she was right on the money.
Speaking of which, the annoying thing is I won’t even be able to get a refund for the room. I should’ve known it was too cheap for its own good. At least I won’t have to be annoyed for very long, though; one takes one’s comforts where one can.
My eyes slide shut and eternity closes over me like a fist.