The Man Who Lived at the End of the World

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Chapter 9

After another two weeks in hospital, Lucy was allowed back home to sleep in her own room.

Several months on, there was more weight on her bones, and she had left her pain behind her, caught up somewhere in the boundless universes of her dreams. She could sleep at night unaided, as peaceful as her first sleep as a baby, and feel hungry and eat without it making her ill.

But now she stirred, and for the first time since returning home an unease crept into her sleep. She suddenly knew something was about to happen.

Abruptly, Lucy felt herself pulled from sleep with the same unstoppable tugging in her stomach that she felt in her dreams of falling. A huge rumble surrounded her, a sound deep and strong enough to rock her bed and shake the walls and terrify her, and she woke with a bolt of panic.

A bright light suddenly powered through the window, a flash so intense that it shone between all the fibres of the curtains in a million tiny rays, and even the world under her duvet was lit up when she threw it over her head. Strange colours swirled and flooded her room for a moment and then died down, but the rumble still remained. It was an ominous, subsonic hum from somewhere underneath the earth, like an angry giant finally waking up.

Against this nightmare backdrop, Lucy heard footsteps running up the stairs and prayed that it was her gran and not a growling minion of the terrible monsters from under the ground, and she jumped with a rush of terror when her bedroom door burst open.

“Oh goodness!” came the voice of her gran with a panic she'd never heard before. “Lucy are you all right? Are you hurt?”

The duvet was pulled back and Lucy gasped, curling up on the bed as her gran looked down at her, concerned. With that the duvet was dropped unceremoniously back down as her gran rushed across the room to the window, where Lucy heard her throw open the curtains.

She held her breath and peered above the edge of her covers towards the window, now its usual black against the night outside, and for a few seconds all she could see was a perfect mirror image of herself in her bed and her grandmother, rippling in the vibrating glass.

She jumped as a roar louder than anything she'd heard before shook the house so violently that the sounds of crashing and shattering glasses and ornaments reached her from downstairs. Suddenly there was a streak across the sky outside, coloured an evil dark red, reaching all the way over to the horizon and filling her room with its menacing light. Her sky-blue walls turned a sinister shade of purple for a moment, then it dipped out of sight and the shaking subsided. There was a gap of several seconds where nothing at all seemed to happen, and then the whole sky lit up in blinding whites and reds, as if the night had been punctured and was bleeding.

Lucy hid herself back under the duvet, reaching for one of her pillows and pressing it over her ears, leaving her gran to stand open-mouthed in shock by the window. She felt tears welling up in her eyes and soaking into the pillowcase as she screwed her eyelids shut against the searing light.

Whatever had begun in that moment did not end. There was no sleep that night, only noise and the sporadic movement of the shaking house. The panicked screams and hurried voices outside were punctuated by harsh sirens rushing past every few minutes.

Each time her gran left her to go downstairs she felt painfully alone, an abandonment magnified by the sudden horror around her, and she stayed hidden under her duvet and imagined being buried deep under the sea where it was peaceful.

Even when the sun came up and shone through the gap in her curtains, Lucy thought it looked sad and broken, limping across the sky. Its home was now just as wrecked as her own.

Her exhaustion overwhelmed her, drowning out the noises and voices, and she fell in and out of a fitful sleep haunted by that great blood-red wound ripping across the sky.

Lucy's gran came in and woke her, insisting she had to eat something. “Here,” she said, depositing a plate with slices of toast onto Lucy's bed. “I'll leave this and you can eat it a bit at a time.”

“I'm not hungry,” Lucy mumbled from beneath her duvet.

“Just have a bit,” her gran pleaded.

She tried several times to wake Lucy and feed her, but each time Lucy ignored her pleas. She saw through her gran's thin assurances that everything was okay now, to her white-faced worry beneath. Lucy didn't care anymore, she just wanted it to all go away. The night she had died was the night her shadows had left her, and she had somehow unleashed them out into the world and torn it apart. Perhaps they would find her again now that she was back home and recovering without them, but whether they did or not, the damage was now done.

Although the darkness normally scared her, it was only when dusk overcame the smouldering daylight that Lucy emerged from her duvet and lay there, feeling her sporadic moments of sleep slowly well up into something more peaceful. When the sun had sunk back down, something gave way and finally let her sink down with it, down into the relief of deep sleep. She landed softly and opened her eyes into a dream.

She was lying on the grass, feeling its cool texture through the thin layer of her white cotton nightgown. The sky above her was perfect and black with the depth of night, and no matter how far past the stars she strained to see, there were always more behind, waiting for her to find them. She frowned to herself as she felt it again, the thing that tried to surface in her memory, like a word hovering on the tip of her tongue but never letting itself be spoken. Maybe it comes from the stars, she thought to herself, squinting her eyes to look at them and hoping they would notice and tell her what it was that she could not remember. It only ever seemed to come to her when she saw the stars at night.

Before long she gave up with a sigh and closed her heavy eyes. Her whole body still felt so tired. She lay quietly and felt the night air settle on her, covering her like a blanket. Her friends the stars watched over her as she felt her breaths rise and fall deeper and slower in her chest. Sleep was taking her into another dream, leaving her frail body behind, leaving everything that it contained to seep away through the grass and into the ground until she was weightless.

The world it took her to was so bright and breathtakingly infinite that she forgot what it was like to have a body, and instead there was only an easy flow of endless bliss that carried her through until the morning. When she woke to the dust and gravity and senses of the real world Lucy opened her eyes and felt like they could not cope with the harsh light here. They ached against the sun as it shone starkly through her window, and the thin silhouette of her gran standing before it turned to face her.

Lucy was not sure which of the dark memories that she recalled had happened here and how many had happened in all the different layers of her dreams, but they began to connect with the sounds of hurrying and impatience outside and released a slow, sinking disappointment into her stomach.

“What happened?” Lucy asked her gran as she looked down at another impeccably-presented breakfast on her bed. “Is it over now?”

Her grandmother paused and then sat down on the bed next to Lucy, pouring a cup of Earl Grey tea for her. “Yes,” she said quietly. “It's all finished.” She looked at Lucy with a puzzled expression. “You'd gone and sleepwalked again last night,” she said. “I had to carry you in from outside.”

Lucy frowned as she lifted herself up to a sitting position, her trembling arms still weak even without the pain. She had no idea what her gran meant. She could barely sit up, never mind walk downstairs in the middle of the night. The stars had seemed very real, but she had woken in her bed, just like the other dreams where the sun shone.

Wondering if somehow they were sharing dreams, she watched the Earl Grey tea pouring out from the teapot, and sat frowning at it as it waited for her in a thick earth-coloured mug. Catching her confused expression, her gran picked up the mug and handed it to her.

“The others were all smashed in the earthquake,” she explained. “It made a terrible mess downstairs.”

Lucy held the substantial mug in both hands and sipped the warm tea from it. “It's so big,” she said. “I think it tasted better in the other cup.”

Her gran laughed. “Yes, it's not very ladylike is it? It used to belong to your father, that one. They found it in the remains of the flat where he lived.”


“Yes it burned down, but...” she shook her head and sighed. “Never mind dear.”

Lucy took another sip, trying to enjoy the mug now that she knew it used to be her father's. She hoped more than anything that he would get better one day, just like her gran kept saying, and that she could see his face in real life instead of in photographs.

“They say we might have to stay somewhere else for a while,” her gran said with an air of reluctance, interrupting Lucy's thoughts. “Don't worry though, it won't be yet.”

“Why?” asked Lucy as she felt panic rise once more inside her. She had only just got used to her own bed again after the hospital.

“Everything's been damaged,” she said. “Even the sky and the ground.” She looked over at the window for a moment but turned back to Lucy with a more confident smile. “But it'll heal,” she assured her. “It'll all heal in time, and you'll get better with it.”

Just then, as if in anger against her grandmother's words, the ground shook. The house was swung from side to side as the sound of things crashing and breaking filled the air from both inside and outside, punctuated by muted shouts and yelps of panic from the street. Lucy sat wide-eyed, her body stiff, tea spilling from her cup to soak in broad splashes on her white sheets. She felt her gran's hand reaching for and grasping her arm so tight it began to hurt.

When the shaking finished she let go of Lucy and exhaled loudly. She stood up and went over to the window. Within minutes the sounds of sirens tore through the air, and raised voices outside sounded so close Lucy thought they were coming into the house. One deep male voice kept shouting incessantly, and she couldn't hear what he said except for the one word “Repent!” that he kept repeating over and over.

Lucy felt like he was talking to her. “I'm sorry,” she mumbled, more to herself than to the outside world. “It's all my fault.”

Her gran came back to sit next to her. “What on earth do you mean?” she asked, concern in her eyes.

“I threw away all the pain,” she said, her eyes tearing up at her own selfishness. “When I died I threw it all away, and now it's out there.”

“What are you talking about?” her grandmother asked, her arms holding Lucy close. “Come here,” she said. “It's not you, it's the big rock, remember? It broke into pieces, and now the pieces are falling.”

Lucy felt the embrace of her gran's arms, and she closed her eyes and wished for the strength to wrestle free, to throw everything off and lie wrapped under the covers until the noise and the earthquakes had all gone. She knew that the rock was not supposed to hit the earth. Something had broken it up and hurled it down here on purpose.

Once her gran had left her alone, she covered her head with her pillow to drown out the noises, and with them still ringing muffled in her ears, she screwed her eyes shut tightly and felt tears roll warm across her skin.

Over the coming days there were more earthquakes, and although they were not very powerful they still made her jump and snap open her eyes when they rocked her bed, and they made her afraid to try walking in case they threw her over. She didn't eat anything for two days, wanting to become as light as those shafts of sunlit dust she remembered from before, and she dreamed of floating away.

Her hunger overpowered her however, and she called her gran to her late one night and asked for toast. As soon as it touched her tongue she tasted it as if she had never tasted anything before, and she ate five slices. Her gran was delighted, and when she hugged her Lucy felt a glimmer of the warmth she had realised she had missed.

After the toast, when her grandmother had gone, she drifted into a contented sleep, and she once again saw the man in the car, and this time when she slapped the warm metal on her way past he awoke and looked up at her, and he smiled. Jolted by surprise into stopping dead, Lucy peered with curiosity through the car's window at the gentleness of his eyes, just like the photographs she had been looking at before, and then she was awoken suddenly by another flash of light that pulled her dream away from under her.

This time it was soundless, and the bright flash that spilled through her curtains and lit up her bedroom quickly faded into a reddish-orange glow. Lucy looked around at the strange hues that now bathed her walls, and slowly and carefully she removed her covers and swung her thin legs over the edge of the bed, tentatively feeling the rough blue carpet beneath her feet.

With a mighty and trembling effort she rose up and stood, feeling like she was seeing her room for the first time in her life as every angle was changed, and unsteadily she moved forward, her hips and knees aching under her own weight. She felt dizzy and light-headed, gravity insistently pulling her one way and then the other, but she carried on until, step by weak and painful step, she reached her window.

Pulling back the curtains with one hand, she leaned on the wooden window sill with the other, and stared. Far away in the distance, floating above the black line of the horizon, was the rolling darkness of a mushroom cloud, all of its light retreating back into broiling smoke. The shadows it cast were eerie and spidery, and as the light faded their tendrils joined to swallow the land back into night.

Lucy looked on in horror and confusion, and she lost her balance and fell backwards as if her legs had been swept from under her. The back of her head connected with the carpet with a dull thud, a shockwave of pain throbbing through it, and she let out a hurt “Ouch!”

For a few moments she looked up at the plain white ceiling and smiled that now she could see a different patch of it than she was used to, and then the door flew open and in came her gran.

“Lucy!” she called. “What happened?” She strode over, and then paused by the window, staring out for a brief second. “Oh no,” she said, as if everything had become clear. “Now the sky will never heal.”

She stooped down stiffly and picked up Lucy in her arms, then struggled upright and carried her back to the bed. Lucy suddenly felt like laughing as it reminded her of her dreams of floating, but as she held on and looked up, she saw that her gran’s face was drawn and creased with lines of worry, making her look much older.

Without another word, Lucy was gently lowered down, tucked in, and the curtains were closed on the night.

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