Too many to count, easy to overlook. For eons, points of light twinkled until they began to disappear unnoticed. Most were faint, played minor roles, seldom featured in constellations. Who worries about the wellbeing of stars?
Eventually Polaris vanished and the Big Dipper’s cup aimed itself at nothing. People paid attention now. Theories multiplied as if to fill the empty space up there in, well, space. Mass psychosis. Coincidental self-destruction. All-powerful terrorist alien beings. The End Times.
A popular (TV popular, not genuinely popular) explainer of topics astronomical, the author Dr. Millard J. Duffel, postulated round-the-clock on talk shows, academic panel discussions, and book signings.
“Folks, I’ll try not to talk over your heads,” said the scholar. We stretched our necks and sat as tall as possible. “Our existence is not an absurdist fantasy, built on a foundation of ignorance and shingled with superstition, no, indeed. We can solve any problem if we roll up our mental sleeves, break an intellectual sweat, and open our minds to Science.”
When Dr. Duffel and his metaphors went missing later that afternoon, most of us tried to express concern but couldn’t quite pull it off. Then we learned the doctor’s apparent demise occurred at the same moment the recently-discovered object named in his honor, Duffel’s Normal Star, also described as NS-209931c, ceased to exist.
“Good riddance, you vain blabbermouth,” a few of us said, referring to the famous man. Stomach cramps and cold sweats infected our mood, however, as if in anticipation of a test for which we’d not studied but instead chose to go binge drinking with our so-called friends. Fate had pulled its bathtub stopper and we were oblivious to the funky water’s slow spiral. Plenty of stars still glittered above, so why worry?
Two days later, a less-hyped but more-beloved scientist, Dr. Kashvi Karthikeyan, winked out at the same instant as her namesake star. Alarms sounded, both figuratively and literally. Fifteen minutes hence, Mr. Wallace Seabee, a campus groundskeeper at Professor Karthikeyan’s university, also went poof. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, Mr. Seabee had naught named after him (gaseous or otherwise) but Antares (very, very gassy) was now gone as well.
These newest events brought the jelly to the peanut butter of our plight: sudden extinction could happen to any of us, and probably would.
An inexorable duvet of doom smothered our loved ones and co-workers and interesting strangers. Next, a punch in the collective nose: we lost the Moon. Likewise, tides, plus all canines. Such cruelty. Many of us missed our pets more than we mourned certain family members or acquaintances. In retrospect, we suspect dogs had howled at the formerly-loyal satellite during the preceding millennia because Rex, Rebel, and Lady knew something didn’t smell quite right.
If you consider Earth’s multitudes and the vastness of the heavens above, you could argue we had time to figure out this eschatological mess. Some of us became angry, or counterproductive, or even catatonic with dread, but in others the glowing ember of courage refused to quit. Right up to the moment it was extinguished. We carry on.
“We” is a funny habit and a hard one to break. Within a palatial estate I sit at a wooden desk carved from two-hundred-year-old oak and write in a leather-bound journal. I didn’t buy the mansion, desk, or journal but I’m not a thief, I’m an inheritor. I tap my pen on the blotter and gaze through a window. I can say with certainty the evening sky was never darker, and yet a single pinprick, brighter than a welder’s spark, pierces the black shroud. The last star. I’ve named it after myself, the sole remaining human being, and together we’ll depart.
Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Airgonaut, Ghost Parachute, The Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, Bending Genres, MoonPark Review, and elsewhere. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati.