This was entered into a short story competition, and while it didn’t win, I still had lots of fun writing it so I wanted to share! The story had to involve someone randomly getting $20,000.
I woke up with a start, opening my eyes and expecting to see a great big burning ball of fire barreling toward me. But for now, the sky was normal—crystal clear, even, the bluest blue I could remember.
Once I was able to breathe easily again knowing I’d be alive for at least a little bit longer, it struck me that something was wrong—other than it being the end of the world and all that. I looked out over the park, my park, and took note of the familiar surroundings. Everything was as it should be.
My ears rang in the silence.
It suddenly occurred to me that there were no squirrels scrambling up the bark of the tree trunks, no birds chirping and calling to each other. I couldn’t even hear the gentle hum of voices or the tires of a bicycle crunching on concrete.
Panic seized my chest as I wondered if everyone else had found a way off the planet without me. What if I was the only human being left on Earth?
I quickly told myself that the thought was ridiculous. There were no rockets, no spaceships, not even any missiles to counter the impending doom. Not anymore. The rational explanation was that everyone was with their families, spending every last second they could with the people they loved.
I wished that I had someone to spend my last moments with.
Despite it being the monumental day that it was, the morning began just like any other. I hauled myself off of my hard wooden bench, my back cracking at least three times. My heels ached as my paper-thin flip-flops slapped onto the ground. My backpack felt like it would rip any second as I swung it onto my shoulders. And, just like every other day, I pondered where I should go, what I should do. The options were limited for someone like me, but I had a good feeling about the diner. If there was anyone left to run the place, maybe they’d give me a free meal; it wasn’t like they’d need the food anymore.
As I made my way across the park, I started to notice some activity. Ducks were grouped together, their beaks tucked beneath their wings as they slept. I spied a family walking on the other end of the green.
It’s funny. The movies always show everyone panicking on doomsday; turns out that instead, everyone just wants one last moment of peace and quiet.
I jumped at the sound of my name. I hadn’t really been watching where I was going, and now I found myself right near the main road. It was the lack of noise that had caught me off guard; only a few cars meandered down the street as opposed to the noisy traffic jams that always clogged up this area.
A man, sporting a business suit and tie, stood several yards off on the sidewalk. I wondered how he could be bothered to dress up when it didn’t matter.
“Anna Chester?” the man asked again, taking a tentative step closer.
I frowned. I was fairly sure I hadn’t seen him before, but then again, my vision was terrible and my glasses had broken long ago. “Who wants to know?” I asked.
“I’m Michael Ruffin, from Startree Publishing?”
My mouth fell open. All the air whooshed out of me in one breathy, “Oh.” I looked down at my tank top and ratty shorts. I would have given anything to disappear.
“I’ve been trying to get ahold of you,” Mr. Ruffin said, approaching me. “I’ve left several messages—“
“No phone. I had to sell it. Figured I had no one to talk to anyway.”
He chuckled a little like he didn’t quite know how to reply to my honesty. “You should have kept it. I was trying to call you about your book.”
Just the mention of “my book” sent my stomach knotting in embarrassment and disappointment. “What about it?” I asked sourly. “Did it somehow turn a negative profit before you pulled it off the shelves?”
Mr. Ruffin blinked. “No. Actually, it became a bestseller almost overnight.”
The words ran through my head a few times before I understood them. “What?”
“A famous blogger—in New York, I think—wrote a stunning review of your book the very day after I called you with the bad news. The next day, sales jumped three-hundred percent.”
I managed to close my mouth and swallow. “Is this a joke?” I whispered.
Mr. Ruffin reached inside his suit. “Not at all. Since flights were so cheap yesterday, I was asked to come down here and deliver this to you personally.” He extended a white envelope toward me.
I reached out, my fingers trembling, and grasped it. I looked up at Mr. Ruffin, half-expecting him to take it back. Instead, a small smile touched his lips. I turned my attention back to the envelope and carefully tore open the top.
I pulled out a check and saw an impossible number staring back at me.
My eyes scanned over the check. It was made out to me. It was real.
“There will be much more where that came from,” Mr. Ruffin said cheerily.
I was so wrapped up in the impossibility of what was happening that it took me several seconds to realize why his words were so strange. My joy deflated like air spitting out of a balloon. I turned my gaze upward, expecting to see the blazing asteroid already coming for us.
Mr. Ruffin followed my gaze, then let out a brief chuckle and waved his hand. “Don’t believe that nonsense. They like to spin these tales of gloom and doom to watch the ensuing panic and see people empty out their savings on their final days. You have to admit, it makes a good story.”
I met his eyes and saw that he truly believed it. Maybe he was right.
I looked down at the check in my shaking hands. I so wanted him to be right.
“Well, I’ll leave you with that.” Mr. Ruffin stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Diner here any good? We can meet there tomorrow for lunch and talk about what’s next for you.”
Excitement and skepticism clashed so strongly within me that I couldn’t tell which emotion was winning. Yes, I was a bestselling author and I finally had the money I so desperately needed, but how could he talk about tomorrow like it was so certain? “Yeah,” I replied, trying to smile back at him. “Noon okay?”
He nodded. “Perfect. I’ll see you then.” With one last smile, he turned and followed the path down the sidewalk. I couldn’t help but wonder where he was staying; was anything still open? Maybe there were more like him than I’d thought, people who didn’t believe that today was the last day of the human race.
My hands still hadn’t moved from where they were holding the check in front of my face. Tears stung my eyes. All my life I’d dreamt of this and now…
I folded the check and stuffed it deep into my pocket, not wanting to think about it again until I could clear my thoughts. I walked down the block to the nearest gas station and found it still open. Using the spare emergency change I always kept on me, I bought a fancy bottled coffee. Even if today wasn’t the final day, I could afford to splurge a little.
As I took small sips of the sugary coffee drink, I found my steps wandering back to the park. My thoughts occupied me so completely that I made my way there on autopilot and was sitting back down on my bench before I knew it.
My gaze was drawn to the sky again. Maybe the scientists were wrong. Maybe someone was only trying to fool all of us. Tomorrow, I’d cash the check and find a proper place to live. I’d buy a computer to write on and eat the best meal of my life.
But just in case tomorrow didn’t come…
I pulled the backpack from my shoulders and fished out a worn black notebook and a pen from the diner that I kept with it. I settled back, uncapped my pen, and now here we are.
I think I’ll just sit here for a little while, writing and hoping until
The exhibit was crowded. It always was. People tried to elbow their way through to the front to get a glimpse of the tiny black notebook that had been the talk of the galaxy for centuries now. People came from lightyears away just to gaze at the scratchy penmanship and carefully preserved, though slightly blackened, pages.
Though the mystery of how the notebook had survived long enough to be excavated and taken from Earth was intriguing enough, people mostly came just to see the writing inside, the last thoughts of an extinct race. The most astute scholars from Jupiter called the final entry “captivating.” Academics from the Mars Institute all agreed that there was nothing to equal it in the entire universe.
“There is no doubt that Anna Chester was an exceptional writer,” a Plutonian professor would put it one day. “But in such a time on Earth when money was equal to success, she didn’t know the fact until it was too late. That, I think, is at the heart of the notebook’s appeal—and its tragedy.”