“Two days of snow, two flashes in the sky, I know the world ends, but I do not yearn.” – Matteo Tafuri, 1492-1582
When the ice froze for the last time, Persephone walked out on it. In the middle of another ash-dark night she’d heard the crack and rumble she remembered so well, the sound of freezing, and just as she had in girlhood she followed that sound.
From the gray shore her sister called after her. Something about how thin the ice was, how fragile, but in those days everything felt like Seph could crush it between her fingers. This wasn’t the kind of thing she feared anymore.
Still she stepped gingerly. She’d never been careless. She stretched her body out on the ice and let the cold seep through her clothes, her skin, all the thin layers that separated her from the world. When she finally came back inside, Tiamat wrapped her in blankets before the dying fire and fed her hot tea, but Seph never received the scolding she expected.
Three weeks ago the radio had told them about the fires and the smoke, somewhere thousands of miles away, but still close enough to blanket their little farm in ash. They’d walked through lanes of crops, the food they’d been counting on for winter, and brushed white dust from the leaves. Overhead the sky glowed orange, then faded to dark.
Two days ago the snow had begun to fall, and it hadn’t stopped yet. The air had the flat, iron smell of midwinter, though Seph was fairly certain it was only September, and whether it was September or January she hadn’t seen a snowflake in ten years.
After Seph thawed she and Tiamat lay on the floor of the cabin, listening to the static hum of the radio. Occasionally one of them would sit up and crank it for a while, though they hadn’t heard voices in a week.
“Do you remember the last time the lake froze?” Tiamat asked her.
She did, of course. The last time the lake froze over was a story in their shared end-times repertoire, alongside classics like the last time the sky was blue and the last time we spoke to anyone other than each other.
Then Tiamat asked her something new, something she’d never asked, in all the times they’d recounted the story together: “Did you know, then, that it was the last time?”
“Second-to-last now,” Seph corrected her, gently. A hum in her bones still called her back to the ice. She’d heed it soon enough.
“Second-to-last,” Tiamat acquiesced.
Seph shrugged. “Then, I thought everything was the last time.” She’d lived a whole life in that way. Clutching moments tight, like she could stop their leaving.
“Did you worry about falling through?” Another new question.
Seph thought back. She must have. Growing up on the water she’d been told ten times or a thousand not to go out on the ice until a grown-up said it was all right, but of course now there were no grown-ups other than the ones they’d become.
“When I was twelve,” she said, instead of answering, “a boy in my class drowned. Do you remember? He was out with his family kayaking when a storm came up.”
The storms from their childhood: she could still taste them. The foam and howl and salt, a flavor that should have been impossible so far from the ocean. Their inland sea, the way it stretched and churned, swallowing frigates and small boys all alike.
“He knew what to do, we all did. We learned swimming in school. All our field trips were out on the lake. He was wearing his life jacket.”
Tiamat’s eyes were round and dark.
“All I mean is,” Seph said, “you can do everything right and still get swallowed up.”
They woke cold in the night. Tiamat curled up smaller, trying to rub warmth into her limbs, but Seph got up to look for the winter blankets they hadn’t needed in a decade. Once they’d have been moth-eaten by now, after such disuse, but Seph wasn’t worried about that anymore. She hadn’t seen a moth in ages.
Seph walked to the window and pressed her palms against the dirty glass.
“Tiamat,” she whispered. The snowdrift was half her height now. They wouldn’t be able to get out the door, even if there was anywhere else to go.
They wrapped blankets around themselves and watched the snow fall, the sky dark as night with ash and heavy clouds. The fire was out.
Seph said, “I read this in a story once. I don’t remember which one. The world ended when the snow kept falling and buried everything.”
“Do you think this is the end of the world?” Tiamat asked.
Seph said, “We’ll find out.”
They didn’t talk about it beforehand. Both of them pulled on snowsuits they unearthed from the closet, parkas and pants and mittens knitted by someone who loved them once. Tiamat, who was taller, lifted Seph up and out the window, then followed her out into the snow.
The lake cracked like a shot in the distance. They took each others’ hands, like they had when they were girls sent out into the woods to play.
The wind had built dune-drifts of snow on the shoreline, leaving the lake clear and shining even in the absence of moonlight. They climbed a dune and slid down the other side, and when they finally reached the ice it felt sturdy and true beneath their feet.
Tiamat looked at her. “Are you ready?”Hand in hand they walked out into the vast white, toward the center of the lake. It held their weight and they lay down; they waited for what was next.
Amanda Crowley (she/her) lives in Chicago and has spent most of her life on and around the Great Lakes. Her short fiction has previously appeared in Fusion Fragment and Mythaxis. Follow her on Twitter @amandaccrowley, or visit her website at www.amandacrowley.com.