This story came to me after I stumbled on a short story contest wherein the only guidelines were that your story had to be about the Winter Solstice or occur on December 21st. I remembered that December 21, 2012 was the day the Mayans said the end of the world with come. I liked this idea and wondered what the “end of world” could possibly look like. I pictured chaos, fear, darkness. But I also knew that I didn’t want it to be a world without love or hope.
This story got Honourable Mention in the contest, which I’m extremely pleased with! It was fun to write and also inspired me a lot. So, while it may be called “Winter’s End,” it certainly isn’t the end of this story. But more on that later. For now, I’ll just say thank you and I hope you enjoy “Winter’s End.”
The Mayans predicted that the end of the world would come on the shortest day of the year. December 21st, 2012.
But the end didn’t happen like everyone had been expecting. The Earth didn’t shake or split right down the centre. The oceans did not rise up and crash against the land, swallowing up people and buildings alike. A giant meteorite didn’t descend from the heavens and collide with our planet. There wasn’t even a loud explosion. In fact, there was barely a sound at the end of the world.
All you could hear, if you really listened hard enough, was the whisper of the ash falling from the black sky onto the stark, desolate ground.
But an hour before it happened, the sound of Kaya’s frantic breathing and the pounding of my heart against my ribs pierced the air. I struggled to support Kaya as we raced through the woods, searching for Shelter. It was only early afternoon, but the night had taken away what little sunlight was left. Even the stars were gone now, replaced by an eternal cloud of dark grey.
We ran past a dying tree, its branches clawing over our bodies. Kaya grunted painfully as he clutched his right side, which was nothing more than a sickening mess of blood and flesh torn right to the bone. Kaya loved to taunt the Hunters and play tricks on them no matter how much I urged him not to. He always managed to outsmart them before they could touch him, but just like the rest of the world, his luck eventually ran out.
“Was it after the oak tree, Kaya?” I gasped, doing my best to avoid more trees. “Kaya?” I glanced at him. There was a pained look on his pale face and I knew he was struggling to keep up with me. He knew how important it was to get to Shelter. But his gold-flecked green eyes were dull; he was fading. I was going to lose him.
The doomsday clock had started quietly ticking five years ago. No one saw it coming. That day was marked only by a small, uneventful earthquake. It happened in a city where earthquakes were so frequent that nobody gave it any notice. If only they had known to expect the extraordinary in the ordinary, they would have seen the darkness beginning to engulf the light. If they had paid enough attention, The War might have turned out differently.
Kaya and I might have turned out differently.
I brushed past a tree branch, sending a cloud of ashes falling on our heads. It made Kaya cough violently and his grip on me suddenly loosened. He fell from my arms and on to his knees. I called out his name.
“Are you alright?” I said, kneeling beside him. “We can rest if you like.” Without waiting for his response, I forced him to lie down and placed his head on my lap. The howls echoed in the distance; the scent of Kaya’s blood was going to lead the Hunters straight to us, but I no longer cared. I brushed dirt and ash from his forehead. He was ice cold.
“Kai, just leave me here,” Kaya said, weakly. “You need to save yourself. It’s all over without you.”
I shook my head, my long blonde hair sticking to my sweaty face. I tried to hold back the tears. “It’s over for me without you.”
Kaya was my perfect match. Created especially for me just as I was created to be his. We were born sixteen years ago in Shelter, the only home we have ever known. There had been ten of us before the clock started. Five perfect genetic pairs, one male and one female each. Five perfect chances to build the world up again after it had fallen. But we never anticipated the rise of the Hunters or that these beasts would come after us. Kaya and I were the only ones that escaped with our lives.
“K-Kai,” he sputtered. Flecks of blood flew from his mouth and my heart clenched at the sight of the scarlet droplets on his handsome face. “It’s not just us anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
“We…we weren’t the only ones that survived. There’s one more out there.”
I stared at him, too stunned to speak.
“I s-saw him yesterday…before the Hunters attacked us.” I saw his hand crawl through the ashes towards me. His fingers shook as they clutched mine. “You have to live to find him, Kai. He’ll help you finish the plan.”
I shook my head. This was madness; it was doomsday talk all over again. I wanted him to stop speaking about the end, to talk instead about getting better and staying with me, but the pool of blood from his body was growing around us.
The howls intensified. The Hunters would be here before I was ready to leave.
Kaya’s fingers stopped shaking and his face took on a serene quality I’d never seen before. I held his hand tighter, hoping it would be enough to keep him here with me.
“Go Kai. Please,” he begged. His voice had grown so quiet that I had to concentrate on the movement of his lips to understand the rest of his words. When he was done speaking, I started to sob.
There were two things I had been born knowing: that I would save the world someday and that I would love Kaya forever. Now I was going to have to let go of one of the only things I have ever known.
I laid him gently on the ground and kissed his blood red lips one last time. Then I turned my back on him and ran.
My creator once told me that people used to celebrate the Winter Solstice, a day that occurred on December 21st and signaled the return of longer days. It meant the rebirth of the sun gods and festivals were always held in their honour. But today, there would be no celebrations. There was no longer any sun to celebrate.
It didn’t take the Hunter long to find me. I moved blindly through the woods, stumbling in the darkness. It had been a year since Kaya and I had fled Shelter and my memories of the path we took away from it were hazy. Tears and ash stung my eyes as I ran. I wanted to distance myself from Kaya, but losing him only made me realize the futility of what I was doing.
I stopped running and stood among the trees, my breath coming out in painful gasps. It was impossible for one person to save the world. Whatever was left of it was doomed now without Kaya as my partner. I was suddenly so completely without hope that I was paralyzed. I could only scream and it was a sound that came from the depths of my soul, weakening every part of my battered body. I didn’t want this life anymore.
A howl joined my agony. I was done with running from the inevitable. I didn’t turn to face my Hunter. I didn’t even flinch when I felt his hands around my neck, his claws digging into my skin and drawing blood.
It was December 21st and the ash fell steadily like it had always done. An ordinary presence on an extraordinary day.
The day that my world ended forever.