I stood at the point of a miles-high cliff and let my right heel trace the edge. There were millions of others packed alongside us, imparting their somber goodbyes. The encampment was little more than a dusty hive of transients seeking reprieve. Few brought more than the clothes on their backs. I waited there as the sun disappeared behind the well-traveled valleys of soot and footprints. That’s when the descents began. The “jumpers,” gambling on an unlikely chance.
“Don’t stare,” my grandfather ordered. “Have some decency.” He was eighty when his cancer returned. Despite temporary remission, his eyes never regained their blue-green vibrancy. His frame was frail and his purple-spotted skin remained translucent. His voice cracked with the crepitation of buckshot and his movements stuttered like the second hand of an analog clock.
Grandpa’s dire condition didn’t faze his physicians. He was lucky to live as long as he had. “You’re making me nervous.” He hooked my arm and yanked me from the ledge with the curve of his cane. He hobbled toward the crippling rim of the world—warning me to stay put with a grunt and a leer.
“I just wanted to see,” I said, licked the grit from my teeth, and gazed at the plunging shadows. “Seems pointless. Doesn’t it?”
He forced a grin. “No more pointless than most other things.”
With the arrival of this ever-growing ditch in the ground, much of the world abandoned their beliefs. This end was their new salvation. A silent dictator. A heaven or hell swallowing the earth and spoiling our numbered days. Every evening another horde of the hopeless sought the jump without hesitation. It was deemed impolite to call them crazy. Who were we to pilfer hope?
“Are we leaving,” I asked.
“Not quite,” he heel-toed to the edge and digested the view. “Not yet.”
It was a glowing river of silky golden light that flowed to the core of the planet. My grandfather had once been tasked to study this place. To observe, report, and return with answers. Since then, the hellscape had become his curious parallel. A swelling laceration devouring our world while disease consumed his body. Impermanence was inherent in them both. Their silent song was a symphony of solemn perdition.
He asked me to come along, to witness it, if only once and never again. I wouldn’t understand until we arrived the night before. I wouldn’t know the feeling until I’d stood there for myself. It felt like freedom.
Most officials taught us to fear the luminous ditch and focus on galaxies abroad. That hope also found itself void in the face of this new damnation. Then the feared became the savior. For when darkness was birthed at the cusp of dusk, this warm light shined like the gates of heaven—inviting us to a new beginning of painless bliss beyond the mortal coil.
I stared across the fiery canyon, thinking of the past and the peace humanity took for granted. I had no memory of a time before the golden hole. This gap in the ground was no different than the sun and stars to me. It’d been here for decades—expanding, demanding attention, and courting our souls with peaceful malevolence.
“I never thought I’d see this place again.” My grandfather turned his head but didn’t otherwise budge. “Thank you, Tommy,” he said. “This is good. This is right.”
He released his old wooden cane into the abyss and watched it splinter into nothing. Then he stood up straight for the first time in years and spread his arms wide as if hugging a redwood. He trembled under the weight of his scratchy brown coat while he looked to the new night’s sky. “Fuck it,” he grumbled and shut his eyes. His body struggled to sway, like a stiff branch in the breeze.
“Careful, gramps,” I joked. “This isn’t a good place to…”
When bills mounted and hospitals crowded, the doctors asked him to reconsider his future. He fought them for a time. After some months, he relented. There was nothing more they could do but beg him to relinquish the hospital room. They suggested rest and a healthy diet before sending him to face death alone. Back in his dusty old RV, he waited and plotted, taking no visitors. Only me and the occasional flirtation with God.
“Hush,” he exclaimed again with regret and fury, toiling in his indecision. “I’m sorry, Tommy. I just need a moment.” The moon arrived and seemed to shine right through him.
I didn’t bother asking what was on his mind. He spoke of death often and openly. The idea began in jest. ‘There are worse ways to go,’ he’d say, drink his whiskey, and reminisce over photos of my late grandmother. She gave her life to the crevice, leaving her consort with nothing to lose but broken memories. He was tormented by the squandered time.
The job kept him too busy. He blamed himself for what was lost. All the while he studied and pondered—wondering what the answer would be. He feared how humanity would respond to the call of an unavoidable apocalypse. He tried to stop it. In doing so, he forfeited his family and most simple pleasures. Perhaps, he felt ungrateful to destiny. Maybe he sought the proper closure.
“Grandpa,” I said, with heavy legs and a breathless squeal while terror gnawed at my spine. “Wait…”
He dropped his arms and backed away. When he arrived at my chest with tear-filled eyes and a limited smile, I couldn’t muster the words to say. Neither could he. I hugged him until my arms threatened to snap. Then I let go.
Grandpa returned to his post on the crippling lip of the sandy ridge and gave a vacant stare into the roiling trench of light. “I’m finally coming home,” he told himself and kissed his wedding band. “I’m coming, Edith.” With that word, he tipped forward and plummeted into forever.
“Pointless,” I muttered. “Pointless.”
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