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Multiverse Apocalypse: A Villanelle

Timothy Mudie is a speculative fiction writer and an editor of all sorts of genres. In addition to Daily Science Fiction, his work has been published in various magazines, anthologies, and podcasts, including Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Deep Magic, and Wastelands: The New Apocalypse. He lives outside of Boston with his wife and two sons. Find him online at timothymudie.com or on Twitter @timothy_mudie.

The end of the world is a rolling snowball, a speck of dust accumulating debris until it's so massive it has its own inexorable pull. And what do you call that but fate?
Nicholas stands atop the hill across the street from the house where he grew up. Where he sledded as a boy; where he snuck kisses and beers as a teenager; where he read and dreamed in the sun on summer afternoons. He breathes deep an infinite number of worlds, a kaleidoscope of possibilities deep in the parts of his brain and heart that extend beyond rational possibility.
And then everything--each robin tugging earthworms from dirt, each dancing molecule. Stops.
Nuclear warheads feel no emotion, take no offense at minor slights or major provocations. They recognize no borders, hold allegiance to no nation. They dream only of fission and fusion. The problem, of course, is that their wielders dream of other things entirely.
When Nicholas walks to the top of the hill across the street from the house where he grew up, hand in hand with Terry, their smoldering secret love swells within Nicholas's heart, fizzes like baking soda and vinegar in his fingertips. This evening, watching the sunset, he knows they will share their first kiss. What he does not know is that hundreds of miles away, silos open. Missile fuel ignites, and the weapons rumblingly glide skyward. Retaliation begins before the first bomb explodes. Nicholas holds Terry's hand, eyes watering with sadness and pain from the glare, as uranium isotopes split or come together. As the shockwave disintegrates the boys, leaving behind nothing but mingled dust.
The end of the world is a rolling snowball, a speck of dust accumulating debris until it's so massive it has its own inexorable pull. And what do you call that but fate?
Gray goo. Such a silly name for an apocalypse. Nanotechnology run amok, replicating exponentially and without end. Spreading from the university lab where they inadvertently learned to create more of themselves. The laboratory's inhabitants become their own machines.
Science never interested Nicholas. At university, he studies literature. As he retreats to the top of the hill across the street from the house where he grew up, he intends to write a poem about Terry and his own broken heart. Winter break from freshman year, the grass beneath his feet crunchy and cold. The nanobots overtake the world so swiftly, with so little warning, that Nicholas doesn't even have time to call Terry to profess that he will love him in this life and every other, before the tiny robots consume him, heart and brain and all.
And then everything--each robin tugging earthworms from dirt, each dancing molecule. Stops.
No one in the government biological warfare lab ever watched a movie or they would have foreseen this. No manmade virus ever infects only the enemy, ever stays confined to test tubes. They cannot be targeted. They evolve and spread and reproduce and kill. Maybe if the scientists and their bureaucratic superiors spent less time devising doomsdays and more time at the cinema, things would be different.
Nicholas expects to be alone on the hill across the street from the house where he grew up. He climbs, coughing black mucus. Pus streams down his cheeks. Clumps of hair drop from his head and trail behind him like breadcrumbs. Like a sick dog, Nicholas drags himself to his favorite place in the world so he can die. In the clearing with the flat rock where he likes to sit, he sees Terry through rheumy eyes. Waiting. They weep, press chapped and bloody lips against sweaty foreheads.
The end of the world is a rolling snowball, a speck of dust accumulating debris until it's so massive it has its own inexorable pull. And what do you call that but fate?
The odds are astronomical. A bitter joke that has been made by millions since the concurrent asteroid swarm and solar flare was announced. Either event could potentially end life on Earth, wipe out human civilization at least, but both together? It's pointless to blame the astronomers, the space agency engineers. They did everything they could.
Minutes left, Nicholas stands with Terry, their family and friends around them at a makeshift altar on the hill across the street from the house where he grew up. Though no one could blame them, their smiles aren't bittersweet. They will spend every moment of the rest of their lives together. The assembled murmur their own farewells and I-love-yous. The sky above is so loud, and so hot.
And then everything--each robin tugging earthworms from dirt, each dancing molecule. Stops.
The earth trembles, rolling like waves upon the ocean, which currently holds only a third of its creatures, which has now dried up by one third, which now turns to blood. A cloud of locusts with lions' teeth obscure the charcoal-black sun.
Three weeks since Terry's car was sideswiped into a highway guardrail by a drunk driver, two weeks since Nicholas stormed out of the funeral, crying and cursing. Now, listening to the wails of lamentation that fill the sky, so thick he can almost reach out and touch them, Nicholas thinks, Maybe there is a God after all. Which makes it so much worse. On the hill across the street from the house where he grew up, Nicholas digs his hands into the grass as if he can hold onto the world. Nicholas rages against this dying of the light. He will not forgive.
The end of the world is a rolling snowball, a speck of dust accumulating debris until it's so massive it has its own inexorable pull. And what do you call that but fate?
And then everything--each robin tugging earthworms from dirt, each dancing molecule. Stops.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, February 8th, 2022


Author Comments

In my younger days, I wrote poetry, and I still enjoy reading it. A while back, I was listening to the They Might Be Giants song "Hate the Villanelle," which led me down a rabbit hole or reading other villanelles and learning about the form. The combination of repetition in some parts and variation in others brought to mind the multiverse and the way in which there would be massive differences between universes but similarities that echo across them all as well. I didn't feel equipped to attempt a poem, so I figured I'd try writing it as prose instead. This is the end result.

- Timothy Mudie
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