How We Spent the End of the World

Radu Roma­ni­uc

The téléphérique moved so silent­ly that I found myself drows­ing despite the bit­ing cold. I kept think­ing that maybe we weren’t mov­ing for­ward at all and the gen­tle rock­ing of the cab was a result of wind rather than cable action. The thought didn’t feel alarm­ing enough to make me open my eyes.

My wife said, ‘Look,’ and now I opened them.

I peered through the scratched plex­i­glas win­dow and saw that we were still mov­ing, about fifty meters above the city—only we were not mov­ing through air any­more, rather through water. I snapped out of my rever­ie and looked at the floor to see how fast the water was ris­ing, but there was not a drop inside. 

“It’s not that cold anymore,” my wife said.

She was right. The chill­ing drafts orig­i­nat­ing from the numer­ous small open­ings and cracks in the old cab had stopped. The water bloat­ed through with­out spilling, reflect­ing the blue neon light of the inte­ri­or and mak­ing the cab seem like it was patched with mer­cury. She showed me one of the biggest cracks, a place where the edge of the met­al door had been dent­ed, cre­at­ing a fist-sized open­ing between it and the con­nect­ing wall. Which was cov­ered now with a trem­bling bub­ble of water. “I won­der what would hap­pen if I poked a fin­ger through.”

For a moment her words awak­ened in me the fright­ened fas­ci­na­tion that I had felt so often as a child when, trav­el­ing by train, I looked at the fright­en­ing yet tan­ta­liz­ing red han­dle under which was writ­ten “Alarm. Do Not Pull.” Then my wife smiled. We tac­it­ly decid­ed not to pull. I moved over to the oppo­site bench, next to her, and we watched the qui­et city beneath us.

It was a liv­ing city, not some old sunken citadel. Its streets were lit by globes of dif­fused yel­low light that drew a pre­cise map of a place where, we real­ized, we had nev­er lived at all. When­ev­er all this water had come over the city, it had been long ago. The cit­i­zens lived their lives com­plete­ly unknow­ing or uncar­ing about a past where the sky had been filled with air. “Are you okay?” “Yes,” and we held hands, tight­ly, relieved to be togeth­er despite los­ing our world.

Through one of the lit win­dows of a house beneath us I saw, bare­ly, the shad­ow of a child hunched over a desk. Doing home­work late in the night, prob­a­bly. I imag­ined this kid, a boy, wak­ing up in the milky water of the win­ter morn­ing and swim­ming lazi­ly to the bath­room. Lat­er, going to school, swim­ming one meter above the side­walk to shoal with his school mates. Their packs full of books and wrapped sand­wich­es float chaot­i­cal­ly around them, and some­times the straps get tan­gled with the girl­s’ hair and there’s dra­ma, and laugh­ter, all with­out a sound. Maybe bub­bles. And they go to school, where the his­to­ry teacher tells them about the Ger­man arche­ol­o­gist who dis­cov­ered Atlantis. That had hap­pened far away. Far away from their sweet-water place.

I imag­ined this boy. Liv­ing this kind of life.

And wrapped around it, the warm­ness of my wife’s body and the firm promise of her con­tin­u­ous presence.

The cab­in reached the téléphérique plat­form with an unex­pect­ed­ly loud metal­lic clang. The auto­mat­ic door grat­ed and opened. Cold, strong moun­tain air rushed inside. We stepped out­side and we saw that the plat­form rest­ed just above water lev­el. Beneath the sur­face the lights of the city were turn­ing out one by one and we looked at that for a while. Lat­er we found an aban­doned sleigh on the gen­tle moun­tain slope, made out of gar­ish blue and yel­low plas­tic. And although the snow was fresh and loose we found a track where we ran the sleigh all night long, tak­ing wrong turns and rolling togeth­er in the snow, stop­ping breath­less­ly just at the edge of the cliff, crash­ing into bush­es. We kissed each other’s bruis­es. We laughed all the time. We did every­thing we could to live glo­ri­ous­ly this brief new childhood. 

In the morn­ing we left the sleigh back where we had found it and, hold­ing hands, we went down into the city.

Radu Roma­ni­uc stud­ied act­ing at the Uni­ver­si­ty of The­ater and Film in Bucharest, where he was accept­ed after recit­ing a piece about Jab­ber­wocky tak­en from a Har­lan Elli­son sto­ry. Years lat­er, he sold his first sto­ry to Jab­ber­wocky Mag­a­zine. The rest of the details in his life don’t actu­al­ly match that nice­ly togeth­er so we’ll just ignore them. 

(Editor's note: This sto­ry can also be read in Roman­ian on the author's web­site, where you can also find an arti­cle (in Eng­lish) about Roman­ian SF his­to­ry.)

One Response to "How We Spent the End of the World"

  • I enjoyed this. Thank you

    1 Steve said this (December 24, 2012 at 12:05 am)