Sent: Thursday, July 06, 2000
Author: Tara Avery
Rating: D for Depressing. Or PG-13, I suppose.
Spoilers: Requiem. Although there aren't any spoilers the world
doesn't know about and it's not a post-ep, per say.
Classification: Story. Angst. Post-Col. MSR. Some mention of
babies. A grab-bag of the dark and depressing.
Disclaimer: Not mine. 'Nuff said.
Feedback: Makes me very happy -- email@example.com
Acknowledgements: For the bloodthirsty Virginians. Thanks to
Alicia K, Sarah Ellen Parsons and M. Sebasky, for beta.
For Sabine, CazQ, wen, Isahunter and Jesemie's Evil Twin who have
all ended the world differently, and broken my heart in doing so.
We All Fall Down
This is how the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
-- T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"
The world burns.
The sky has been the same shade of red-orange for days, like a
ruddy sunset glowing on every horizon. Ash falls like dark rain,
staining everything it touches with sooty dark. She looks out
periodically but sees nothing different, nothing to let her know
anything has changed for the better.
She can do nothing but wait. Even though she keeps the windows
closed tightly the walls, the white furniture, everything is dark
with ash. She thinks it's a fault in the ventilation system. It
is a cruel reminder that nothing is sacred, nothing is safe.
After the first day, she stopped trying to scrub her world clean.
Her knuckles are still raw, cracked. Even what little running
water she has is black.
The first day was filled with screams. No one knew what was
going on, of course. The sky filled with darkness so deep it
blotted out the sun. People ran outside to take pictures, and
others, to keep their eyes safe, peered at the dying sun through
little pinhole-pricked cards.
Everyone who was outside died. She thinks probably the people
inside died as well -- she just wasn't one of them. Some had
enough time to scream, but most didn't. There one minute and
gone the next, in the space of a heartbeat and a scream.
She had been at home, having just returned from a doctor's
appointment. Everything's fine, Doctor Scully, nothing to worry
about. She remembers that she was just about to press the
blinking light on the answering machine when the world screamed
and went dark.
She also remembers fretting about the unheard messages. One of
them could have been from him. It doesn't matter anymore. Most
of the world is dead. She thinks these words but they don't
strike her as anything approaching reality. They are just words.
She doesn't think of the laughing children at the doctor's
office, or the harried mothers trying to fit too many things into
a few short hours. She doesn't think of her own mother, perhaps
out gardening when the darkness struck. She doesn't allow
herself to think that if he had been alive to leave her a
message, he probably wouldn't be alive now. If he was alive, he
would have found a way to come to her. He promised her that.
She thinks instead of how nothing she had known could ever have
prepared her for this. She had been half-prepared for giant
ships to come sweeping out of the sky -- she just had not
expected anything so soon. But there were no ships. There was
no preamble, no foreplay. She was not prepared for the world to
die in a sudden burst of fire, assailants unseen. She was not
prepared to face this alone.
Within the walls of her home she lives her life as usual. She
makes salad because it doesn't require cooking, although the
vegetables are getting a little soft. The lettuce is limp, and
she has no cold water to soak it in. For some reason this
distresses her. Her stomach aches all the time.
She sleeps in the baby's room, curled up beside the empty
bassinet that used to be white. She forgets what white looks
She's lost count of how many days it's been.
Walls that used to be lemon yellow are marred with dusty black
splotches, which flutter across the walls like dark butterflies.
She never liked butterflies much. She was always a little
disturbed by the radical change from pupae to adult. Something
confined to the ground could not spontaneously become something
that could fly. It wasn't scientific enough for her. It was a
She feels like a caterpillar now, a chrysalis, curled up around
her swollen stomach on the black floor. Her cocoon is her
apartment. Sweat drips down her face, even though it should be
fall, it should be getting cold. There should be a cold breeze.
Snow is white. She longs to see the snow. In the spring she
will turn into a butterfly and fly away.
She wants to be brave. She wants to escape this madness. She
wants to rage. Instead she is hollow, limp, drained. Her body
betrays her. She finds it hard to breathe the sooty air. It
takes too much energy to move from one room to another.
The back of her neck throbs. She knows it is only a matter of
time until they find her.
She closes her eyes and waits for spring.
From a world of ice, he walks into a world of fire. He
recognizes nothing. Skylines are different. The sky is no
He is too late.
Each step he takes grows heavier and heavier. There is nothing
here to save. An empty Coke can sits in the gutter, blackened
but still recognizable. Burned out husks of cars scatter the
streets, forgotten like toys. The silence of the streets is
broken only by the distant crack of beams as another house falls
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
"We never stood a chance," he whispers aloud. His voice echoes
along the empty street. Another beam cracks, this one closer.
He feels the shudder under his feet as the building crumbles.
He doesn't let himself check the buildings, because he knows what
he'll see. Just bodies. Just empty husks, like the cars. He
doesn't want to walk anywhere he knows, because he's afraid he'll
start recognizing buildings, start recognizing bodies.
There is one body he has to find, and then he can rest.
He coughs as a hot wind blows ash into his face. Unbidden, the
image of a crematorium forms in his mind. His whole world has
become a crematorium. A continent-sized concentration camp.
Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.
He keeps walking. There is nothing else he can do.
When he grows tired he finds a bench and sits. He thinks this
might have been a nice neighborhood, before. The twisted remains
of a jungle-gym stand nearby, half-buried in sand and glass. He
hopes there were no children playing on it. Quick, though.
There's something to be said for a quick death.
He refuses to count the dead. He refuses to think of the faces
and places and friends he will never see again. He wonders if
the Gunmen saw it coming, if they escaped unharmed. Probably
not. The technology the invaders used was like nothing on earth.
It was not a simple electromagnetic pulse or nuclear bomb. It
was nothing that could be defended against. It was nothing
humankind could ever have prepared for.
He wonders if there are any survivors at all.
They must have been tired of waiting, he thinks. Death instead
of colonization. End the threat before it can truly become a
Looking around him he wonders how they could ever have imagined
the planet Earth a threat at all.
A sudden flash catches his eye -- a glint. He focuses on it and
sees an improbable little dragonfly pushing itself through the
air. As he watches, it shudders, pauses, wings immobile. He
reaches out to it, but before it lands in his hand, it manages to
pull itself up. The wings beat, glittering red and gold in the
light of the fires. He wants to catch it in a glass as a
reminder that once there was life. Once there was more than
smoke and ash and death.
It moves on, sluggish but alive, and he is filled with something
akin to hope.
She dreams. She dreams of blood and fire, of a red sky and a red
ocean. The sky opens up and dead bodies rain down, smothering
everything with the weight of a billion corpses.
She dreams that the baby comes early, and that she doesn't know
what to do. "I'm a pathologist," she tells it, while it squirms
weakly, too tiny to cry. Little lungs unequipped to breathe
clean air struggle with ashes. "I don't know what to do with
living things." She hugs the little baby to her breast and
breathes, "I don't know what to do with living things."
I'm a pathologist. I can cut you up when you're dead, but all
the king's horses and all the king's men won't be able to put you
back together again.
She dreams of yellow rooms going up in smoke, and of her mother,
dying in the rosebushes while the fires rage overhead. She
dreams of butterflies, a million black butterflies, whose beating
wings sound like voices screaming.
She dreams he comes too late.
When night falls the sky is a darker, more violent red. There is
no moon, but he has no problem finding his way. The landmarks
are familiar now; he knows where he is. He knows he is near.
This place is farther from the center of destruction -- buildings
are whole. The streets are still silent, however.
Here he finds reminders of life: little pieces of cardboard,
pin-pricked; a child's doll forgotten in the middle of the
street, blonde curls ratty with soot; a set of car keys. He
closes his eyes. It's more painful to see these small inanimate
objects than he's capable of bearing.
He finds her building at last; sees her car parked outside. He
had half-thought she might be at work when it happened, but
decided against going there. He did not want to see those
familiar halls empty, familiar offices with familiar corpses. He
didn't want to apologize to them.
He didn't want to admit to them that he was wrong. Nothing he
could ever have said or done would have saved them from this.
He opens the door to her building with trepidation. He knows
what he'll find, but he's not sure he can stand it. His only
comfort is that knowledge will bring rest.
Instead of a corpse, he finds her huddled on the floor in a pool
of blood, rocking an empty stomach. He is filled with joy until
she looks up at him with wounded eyes, eyes that have seen too
much, eyes empty of recognition.
"I thought it was only a dream," she says in his general
direction, as recognition slowly dawns in her eyes. Instead of
joy or relief, her voice remains hollow. "I thought you wouldn't
"I told you I would come back to you."
Her face crumples. "You're too late."
"Scully, you're alive--"
"You're too late!" she screams. It is a sound unlike any either
have ever heard before. They are both silent in the aftermath,
while the echoes of her scream reverberate through the empty
apartment, the empty street.
He takes a step closer, trying to see where the blood is coming
from, trying to save her. She closes her eyes. "After
everything we've seen, and everything we've done, it's not worth
it, Mulder. Not after this. Not in a world full of ghosts. I
can't live in a world of ghosts, not even for you. Not even for
For the first time, he notices that the room is set up like a
nursery. There are mottled teddy-bears on a rocking chair, and a
mobile of stars and moons and comets hangs above a bassinet.
There is blood everywhere: the floor, Scully, the bassinet.
The bassinet isn't empty. Scully continues to rock, back and
forth, back and forth, shaking her head. A tiny red face peers
up at him from the cradle, silent. It looks so perfect. He
reaches down, and his hand is so much bigger than the little
The body is cold, unmoving. Ashes, like black tears, rest on the
"This isn't your fault, Scully," he says. He is surprised at how
small the baby is. The hands and the fingernails and the little
tiny feet -- the whole infant fits into the cup of his hands.
This is too much. He feels as though he is watching himself from
a great distance. He should be screaming, weeping, laughing. He
should be doing something, anything.
Instead he asks quietly, "When?"
Her voice is broken, scattered. "I thought I was dreaming."
"It's not your fault."
She says nothing.
"We have to leave, Scully. We have to get out of here."
"I'm not leaving." The words are spoken clearly. He can hear
traces of the woman he knew in those words.
"We have to. They'll find us here. We have each other. We have
"Survive for what?" She looks up at him and smiles. It's a
cruel smile, twisted inward. It hurts him to see her so broken.
"They'll find us wherever we go. I don't have the strength for
this. No more running."
"Scully--" he protests, realizing how pale she is, how small.
She's curling up inside herself, like a wisp of rice paper caught
in a flame.
She shakes her head again. "What's the point? There's nothing
left to run *to*. We failed, Mulder. Whatever it was we were
supposed to be doing, whatever it was we were supposed to be
saving -- we *failed*. I have a chip in my neck. They will be
coming to find me. I'm bleeding, Mulder. I'll be dead before
they come. You still have time, but this is where I draw the
line. Everyone is dead. My pain will not save anymore lives.
No more running. No more fighting. This is the end."
He looks down into the face of this dead child and sees truth
He lays the baby back in the bassinet. He can rest now.
Ashes, ashes we all fall down.
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Author's Note: For any of you familiar with her work, this story
was heavily influenced by Sarah Slean's "I Want to be Brave".
Virginia, this is my humble addition to the Pact. Thanks for
reading. Let me know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org