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y alarm woke me one final time. I’d set it early, hoping to catch the end of the world.

I dressed slowly, with the numb realisation that comes with knowing this will be the last morning I would ever face, wondering for a moment how I should be dressing for the occasion. Should I be dressing up? Just what do people wear for an apocalypse, anyway?

We weren’t even sure what they were, where they came from, or how they got here. Another world? Another dimension? We had no way of finding out. They wouldn't talk, they wouldn't negotiate, so what they were was irrelevant. All they did was destroy. One by one our cities were falling silent, a few garbled reports of creatures in the darkness, giant machines stalking the streets, but nothing definite, nothing we could form a picture of, nothing we could blame.

Leaving the house, I didn’t bother locking up - there didn’t seem much point. After the chaotic panic and looting over the past few days, the streets had fallen deathly quiet, leaving only scattered debris as evidence of the madness that had occurred. When the end grew closer and the inevitability of what was happening sank in, people had just seemed to fade away back into their homes.The few wanderers I did pass had their heads down, consumed with their own thoughts and memories. No-one spoke to me. No-one even looked at me.

But that’s when I saw him. Standing alone in the middle of the street, an old man stared wistfully at the horizon. His clothes seemed unusually formal and antiquated, but then I remembered my earlier indecision in selecting my outfit. Who was I to judge another man for how he chose to dress for the end of the world?

I was about to continue past him when he heard my approach. Raising his silver-haired head, he peered at me through a pair of spectacles, judging me, before finally nodding with a faint smile in my direction. That was the odd thing; everyone else was absorbed in their own thoughts, but the old man seemed eager for some company. In a strange way, he seemed to have been expecting me.

In the distance, the red glow on the horizon continued its approach. As the morning light grew brighter, the haze was beginning to show signs of the horrors it held within. Fire and smoke billowed out over the city and for a moment I thought I saw a glimpse of something enormous moving within the smoke. What? I couldn’t be sure. 

There we stood, the old man and I, watching the end approaching. As the smoke billowed high over the distant skyline, I found myself thinking back over my life and its imminent conclusion.

'Do you have any regrets?; I asked finally, more to fill the silence than anything else.

The old man paused for some time, carefully considering his response.

After what seemed like an eternity, he finally spoke. 'I regret I couldn’t be here sooner.'

Hearing a scratching sound, I looked down. The old man was scraping his cane in the dirt, backwards and forwards across the ground, carving a white line through the unspoilt grey of the road surface. I watched for some time, gently lulled by the rhythmic scraping it produced.

Finally, I had to ask. 'What are you doing?'

After a moment’s consideration, the old man paused in his work.

'This here,' he commented, indicating the line he’d drawn by tapping it with his cane. 'This is where it ends.'

'Everything ends today,' I agreed.

'Perhaps,' he considered. 'But sometimes what you think is an ending is nothing more than a pause, a comma in the great tale of the universe.'

'Who are you?' I asked.

'The Doctor,' was his cryptic response. I didn’t pursue the matter and he didn’t even ask for mine, we just stood there in silence with the old man continuing his oddly calming sketching in the dirt. Backwards and forwards scraped the cane. Left, right, left, right.

'Helps me think,' the old man explained. When I looked puzzled, he continued. 'The cane,' he explained. “I’m an old, old man. Lot of memories to keep hold of. So many memories, but not much room in here,” he tapped at his skull with a withered finger. 'I have to keep them somewhere, so I keep them in the dirt.'

'What are you trying to remember?'

'Levers,' the old man said, cryptically. 'There’s always a lever. The right word, the right person, even the right idea can make a difference. It’s just a matter of finding where to push.'

Facing the oncoming storm, I stood alongside the Doctor. Only the faint dust mark in the road stood between us and the approaching fires and heat, which at this distance had begun to warm my skin. As I began to move back from the intense temperatures, the old man reached out and gently, but firmly gripped my arm.

'Here is where we stand,' he instructed. Without being able to explain why, I nodded and stayed where I was.

Finally, the old man grasped his cane between both hands and planted its tip firmly in the road.

'Right then,' he said.

There we stood, the Doctor and his companion. Just two people who’d decided to make a stand against the end of the world.

'Right then,' I said.

written by
NICK WHEELER
copyright 2013
 
artwork by
NICK WHEELER
copyright 2013
 

artwork by ANDY LAMBERT
used with permission
 
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