I was sluggish in my morning rituals, reluctant as to leave the comfort of my home. I was like the many others within the community. I was tired. That's really all there was to describe us. We were all miserable with the heavy weight of drowsiness that hung over us as oppressively as the gray December clouds that loomed on the faintly glowing skyline.
I had woken late last night, or rather, early this morning in fits of violent trembling as cold air washed over me from a nearby open window. I blinked a moment and lifted my head off the many number of books left open on my desk. Regaining my sense of awareness, I shuffled across the room with the intention to close this particular source of my numbness, the window.
I was unable to feel my fingers, or my toes, for that matter, but somehow, I was successful, and went to bed for a few hours of sleep I managed to harness before they were stolen away by the chime of my alarm clock, and again with frigid air. I then made every preparation to leave the apartment and head back to the university, but I could not convince myself to actually carry out the task.
I stared intently at the door knob trying to coax myself into reaching for it. You have to leave eventually - might as well get it over with, I thought again and again. Alas, another thought that stalked the first echoed quietly but unmistakably, "It's so cold in here, it will be worse outside. Why don't you retire back to your warm blankets?" I desperately shook the thought out of my head, and boldly lunged for the knob. A gust of biting cold wind accosted me, but I trudged through it, nevertheless.
I could feel the previous night's lack of sleep fall even heavier upon me now that I fought the wind, but I couldn't be late today. Goodness, not today, for tucked in my bag was my masterpiece. I had spent too many late nights laboring on it - making absolutely sure each word was right, and in the right place. It was the story I'd dreamed of writing, and it was going to get me out of college and into the publishing world. I imagined my professor’s pride and glee when he reads it, and I smiled. I almost forgot how cold and tired I was as I thought about my soon-to-be achievement, and was startled when the vast, Tudor walls of the school came into sight. That wasn't so bad, I thought. I'd expected the walk to be longer.
There was something strange about the atmosphere that day. The energy of the other students and of the staff seemed worn, and more fatigued than usual. Perhaps they all spent nights like mine. I thought little more of the initial observation, but we usually do of the most vital things. I settled into my first class of the day. It was the only classroom with windows, which didn't make much sense to me because it was a French class. Why not make it the creative writing class, or art class? Such would need inspiration, perhaps lying outside a window after all. I now turned away from the glass and assembled my belongings in their proper place as other tired students trudged in after me.
I anxiously adjusted my pens on my desk as I waited for class to start, and glanced at my bag, tempted to pull out my story and read it once more. My eyes were turned upward as the click of my professor’s high heels cracked like a whip in the quiet bustle of the morning. She emptied an enormous amount of belongings on to her own cluttered desk, locked her purse in a drawer, and shoved her hair from her eyes to expose an aged-but-still-attractive face.
"Bon jour," she greeted us with a half-hearted smile, and wrote the date on the board. She then drew out a stack of graded quizzes, began handing them to us, and jabbered endlessly about how disappointed she was in the sentence structure, or something.
I grew bored and turned my attention to the cold, barren grounds out the window. I became quite intrigued by the skeletal trees, which would have been significantly less fascinating if I were in the presence of anyone besides this particular French teacher. It was as if I continued to daydream, time would somehow move faster and I could remove myself from this place. If only time would move faster, I thought, still watching trees shiver in foreboding winds.
Time... An hour could be anything it chose to be. Dying, it's like days, in love, it shifts itself into seconds. I, however, seemed in no control. Trees swayed slower now.
What if I could control it? What if I could have more time? Would I live longer or die slower? Really, I thought, I just want more time to sleep. I smiled at the simplicity of the wish. Of course, more time could simply mean more time awake. Waiting all that time just for rest would be torture. Perhaps things are fine the way they are.
I continued to let my mind wander, mostly to new plots I could write about, until the last two minutes of class in which I paid attention just long enough to catch the homework assignment. It was strange. Class seemed rather long today - too long. It's probably just me, I thought and shrugged it off, but I was so sure it had been longer. How very odd. What was stranger was that every class after that seemed progressively longer. No one else seemed aware of time's deviation except me. They just looked... tired. I mean, even more so than before. Lines appeared young, beautiful faces, and already exhausted eyes sunk deeper than the ocean. They looked like corpses crawling steadily across the corridors. Why wasn't anyone else noticing?
Perhaps I was delirious from my late night. Yes, that was precisely it. I continued to the music wing of the building. One more class before I got to turn in my work. No need to rush this class, though. If only it would last longer. I suppressed my unavoidable grin just thinking about it.
Here is the reason why: as I entered room B21, I set my bag down careful, as quietly as I could so that Kira would continue bowing the beautiful melody on her violin, and would not stop to observe me entering. I stood passively, but listened intently until she finished. After a moment of silence following the final decrescendo, I said, "That was beautiful". Kira jumped and spun around. Her momentary innocence that flickered in her surprise immediately turned into a glare upon seeing me.
"You're late," she chastised me.
"No, I've been here the whole time."
She only took on a colder expression, knowing I'd been listening to her play longer than she had initially thought. I do believe there is no other man that could find such an incriminating face as pretty as I found hers.
"Sit," she instructed me gesturing to the baby grand in the corner, "I do hope you've practiced your etude."
"Of course," I replied as I situated myself on the bench and placed my fingers on the keys.
One, two, three, four... Music flowed through instinctively onto the piano. I wanted to look up at Kira for some sign of approval as I played, but I forced myself to keep my eyes on the lines of the music in front of me. After the disaster with this piece last week, I was not about to let myself make a mistake. When I was finished, I turned around and waited for her evaluation.
"Good, but...” she said, and I beamed, for that was the best I was ever going to get out of her. ”You seemed to have missed the ritardando. Don't tell me you saw them, because I would have to expel you from this room if you think that is the proper way to slow down." I did see the markings, but I wasn't about to tell her that now.
"Play it again, but do it right this time." I frowned and turned back to the keys. She didn't let me get far before exclaiming, "No, no, no! It's like this." She took the keys an octave up from where I played and played it correctly.
"Go slower," she said. I tried again, but she kept shaking her head.
"Better, but it still needs to be in rhythm," she said. I clenched my teeth and we tried to get me to properly slow down. I just couldn't do it. I had played the line so many times that the piano keys seemed to separate into unrecognizable patterns. I blinked and they went back into place. Kira continued talking about subdividing rhythms, unmoved. How did she not see that? I could have sworn it actually happened. Maybe not...
As time dragged through the slow beats, I could feel drowsiness start sinking onto my eyelids. I shook my head and blinked it away. Oh, how slow the music had become! My drowsiness was not boding well with my boredom and the presence of my own soporific melodies. It was as if I had blanked out for the whole time Kira and I had been playing. I was so tired that I felt perhaps I had actually dozed off for a moment, but the music trudged forward in its sluggish lullaby. It was like a paradox between time and my reality. Perhaps I truly was going crazy. I'll definitely allow myself to get more rest this coming night.
Eventually, amazingly, our song in largo ended and it was finally time to leave beautiful Kira. Time with her was typically so short, but today it was long - too long. When I left the music wing, I made a point of going to a window and observing the sun. It was still morning? How could that be? I mean, it was always relatively early when I went to English, but today, for some reason, it shocked me. I turned around and almost gasped.
The horrid crowd of people rolling through the school might as well have been reanimated dolls, cursed to walk the earth forever and carry out Evil's bidding.
I hurried to Creative Writing and tried to keep my eyes down as I went. They're just hallucinations, I thought. It's like a nightmare. Everything will be okay when you wake up.
Though I felt I was walking rather fast, it seemed to take an abnormally long time to get to class. Is it really that far away? Just as I was thinking I'd taken a wrong turn in my haste, the class room came into sight. The moment I entered, I made a beeline to the professor’s desk and cheerfully handed him my story I'd been protecting throughout the day. This would be worth all the delirious hallucinations, I was sure. The professor took it solemnly and tucked it into a drawer with the rest. I pursed my lips and reluctantly turned to find a seat.
That day, we were working on poetry. The work of T.S. Elliot blurred in front of me. I squinted, only making out one line. I kept forcing my tired eyes upward to see if perhaps the professor was reading my work, but he never was. I continued to annotate symbolism and rhyme patterns, but was interrupted by the most bizarre of all things today. A girl screamed. I heard it as clear as day, as a cardinal bright red on white snow. It was piercing and agonizing, and it echoed off every wall, reverberating throughout the entire building. I jumped, startled and terrified, but what I saw when I looked up horrified me even more.
All the other students still had their noses buried in their books casually. They heard nothing, and I was the only one in the room standing. Simultaneously, they all turned their heads to the sound of my heavy breathing. All their eyes were completely black and their lips were thin and white with death.
I felt my own scream asphyxiate me and sputter out barely audible on my tongue. My heart raced and I made for the door, but my feet moved like they were encased in cement. I continued to panic, looking frantically back at their hideous, sallow faces. When I turned toward once more, Kira had somehow appeared in front of me and I stopped dead in my tracks. I knew it was her by her sleek, black hair and petite build, but her face was not of a beautiful young musician any longer.
Her skin looked stolen from any nutrients and her eyes were black as well. The only thing that separated her from the zombie-like students was an empty smile that hung almost melancholy on her face. I stared at her in horror until behind, I heard someone fall to the floor, and I whipped around. The eyes of the girl who had fallen had begun to shut, and as soon as her eyelashes touched each other, a smile flickered on her lips too, like someone falling asleep going into a peaceful dream.
No, she was asleep - or was she dead? Before I was able to determine, all the other students began collapsing one by one, each seeming to fall into some heavy sedation. I gasped as they were each knocked off. Suddenly, I felt Kira's hand touch my face, turning my head to look at her.
"Your turn," she whispered. The moment the words left her lips, I felt my eyelids turn to lead and my knees grow weak underneath my weight.
No, no, I thought, I can't.
"You can," she said as if reading my thoughts. "Sleep now, darling. It's what you've always wanted." The floor was cold against my cheek, but sleep still imposed upon me forcibly. As my eyes began to close, the sudden image of six billion people all together lying down and sleeping flashed through my head. We were all going under, every single one of us. The first moment of silenced passed on earth as we drifted into our eternal slumber as humanity. Meanwhile, I could feel my heartbeat slow down in my chest.
"This is the way the world ends," I thought, recalling the line of poetry I had caught just earlier.
- “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”
—T.S. Elliot, “The Hollow Men”.
Written by Lauratheveganhorn