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THE END OF THE EARTH
The Asphodel sustains the Dis dwellers,
Where they rest beyond that fatal river—
There the wretched shades drink forgetfulness,
And to oblivion sink without distress.
Charon was withered, wan, and skeletal,
Although eternally grateful for his immortal life
And steady job of ferrying the dead across the river Styx,
In their transition from life to death to forgetfulness.
Fireweed grows from Hell’s sulfurous embers,
As does Purple Loosestrife—dead men’s fingers;
But wildflower air revives the dead—and then
Those happy souls can thrive on Earth again.
As Earth was the only planet he’d come across
With such promising higher life forms,
Charon had grown rather fond of its inhabitants,
Even though he only saw but the worst of them;
But even from that he could extrapolate
To the qualities of the best.
Charon did his job well, professionally,
Although it was ever so dreary,
With the endless darkness of wasted lives
And the grim and gloomy skies all around.
The land always had
That same gray and leaden feel.
He ferried on, though,
For his own life was precious to him.
The soon-to-be really really dead never said much,
For what was there to tell after an empty life
That had often turned to deep regret.
Charon did not prompt them for information,
For this was not the thing to do
At the time of their passing,
So he was always most
Courteous and kind to them,
Even to the most evil of the darkest,
Doing his task as well as he could.
It was not that Charon was afraid that
His undersized master of the underworld,
Pluto, might be watching,
But that he had the extreme clarity
To duly serve the task at hand—
A testament to his character.
Charon had been quite alarmed lately—
What with the numbers of the hellish-souls-to-be
Climbing into the millions in such a short time,
But he had been through this kind of rush before,
With the doomed and damned of other planets
That had been consumed by their suns
Or had undergone other such catastrophes.
He just used larger boats,
And patiently took his time,
For he had all of Eternity.
Charon could and did feel deep sadness,
But he didn’t show it outwardly,
Even when the numbers from Earth
Increased a thousand-fold again.
A few of the now billions of depressed Earthling souls
Had enough energy left to mumble a few words,
And so he was able to glean from them
The latest happenings on Earth.
In 2015, the predicted exponential surge
Of melting ice from global warming
Had quickly inundated all of the coastal cities,
Many of them large centers
Of population and commerce.
Everyone who could possibly make it
Had to retreat inland,
Creating the largest mass exodus in history.
As the heat rose to unbearable levels,
Many had begun living in their basements,
As the Earth’s infrastructure
Began its eventual collapse.
Millions eventually headed north
Towards Canada and Siberia,
But had to retreat when the ice caps totally melted
And formed the great Ocean of the North;
Most of them did not make it.
No one but the ignored physicist mathematicians
Had predicted that the end
Could come into sight so quickly.
Then came the dreaded polar shift
That made global warming seem but a small note
Compared to this new and darker symphony.
The Earth was thrashed with storms
The likes of which it had never seen;
Electricity went out completely all over the world,
But for a few nuclear powered areas that didn’t last.
No one could drive very far,
Even on their last tank of gas,
For the roads had melted,
Along with the tires of the vehicles,
And if the vehicles stopped
They’d find themselves mired
In the meltdown of the asphalt.
Food would no longer grow very well,
Even in once lush gardens,
In the amounts that were needed,
And, as the heat rose further,
Into the 140s, plant growth ceased altogether,
Although a new but rare
And expensive form of food pill
Extended life for some of the rich,
For a short while.
Charon had of course,
Seen much of this kind of thing before
From the many other solar systems
And galaxies on which life had formed.
Earthlings seemed to have
A special charm and hope
Above and beyond the other alien races.
So he rowed and ferried
And deposited them on the far shore,
His job and life forever continuing
In a place with no color,
No joy, and no future—
On the shore of the land
On the edge of oblivion.
Charon had depths of compassion,
But many passengers might
Have thought him stoic,
Although they were mostly
Beyond this capability.
A sign on the opposite shore said:
Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here
Billions more arrived
In the gray land all too soon
And Charon learned that
Either madness or desperation on Earth
Had caused a nuclear winter all over the planet,
Bringing on a deep freeze that few could escape.
Perhaps they were trying
To combat the ultimate heat,
Which would have been
But a cool breeze in Hell.
The polar shift had greatly
Added to the deep freeze.
A few of Charon’s still speaking
But chilled customers
Even expressed a longing
For the legendary warmth of Hades.
Charon, stalwart and reliable, rowed on steadily,
Ever steeling himself to the misery.
Finally the masses slowed and dwindled
To a few dribs and drabs over a few years
And then there was no one for several years.
A lone man appeared on the shore near the ferry dock,
And Charon readily approached the man,
Something he had never done before.
They had a long and hearty talk,
For the man was animated
And not at all like any of the other wretched souls.
“How is it,” inquired Charon,
“That you are full of life and seem to be a good man
But have been sent here?”
“I am not a bad person in any way,” the man replied.
“Actually, I just spent some time in Heaven.
I found out there that my sweetheart
Was sent here to you,
For she was a suicide
And so was destined here;
However, I had promised
To be with her forever,
So I chose this place
Over Heaven out of my love for her.”
“Extraordinary,” exclaimed Charon.
“I knew the Earth had
A few good men and women;
I’ve not seen very many clues
Of that elsewhere in the universe.
Did you colonize space—
Will your species continue and flourish
After your Earth bids farewell?”
“I’m afraid not,” replied the man,
“For too many needless wars intervened
And this greatly delayed our space program.”
“A shame,” said Charon,
But is there any hope left on Earth,
I mean, are there any others still about?”
“I am the last,” the man answered slowly.
The first tear of Charon’s long life
Rolled down his cheek;
Nothing had ever made him cry before:
Nothing had ever made him weep.
(Rewritten from Lord Dunsany’s brief sketch)