Estimated reading time — 5 minutes
I met Cassie for the first time when I started high school. She was in my art class, and the teacher, Ms Perez, was always giving her a hard time. She was talented, but lacked motivation, was what she used to say. Cassie didn’t seem to care, and seemed more focused on whatever music was blasting in her earphones than on her art assignments.
We started talking, and found out we were both interested in the same kind of music. I had played the piano for a couple of years, and she was taking guitar lessons. We both dabbled in songwriting, and it didn’t take long for us to join forces to start a band together. There were only the two of us in it, but we were young and mostly just spending our time daydreaming about making it big.
Something… changed in the middle of our sophomore year. Her family had been away over the holidays, and when we met again in January I could tell that something was off. She looked tired in a way I’d never seen her before, and she seemed unfocused. I asked her about it, and she just told me that she’d been having trouble sleeping. I kept prodding, and Cassie described having weird dreams of traveling through vast, empty spaces. They weren’t nightmares, as she weren’t scared, but when she woke up in the morning she didn’t feel rested either.
Days passed, and she didn’t get better. In fact, every morning the bags under her eyes seemed deeper in hue, and nothing could hold her attention for very long… except for art class.
Looking at her as she was then, it was hard to imagine it being the same Cassie I’d seen roll her eyes at Ms. Perez in our first year. As soon as she got a brush or pencil in her hand, suddenly she came to life again. It was amazing to watch her as she worked, filling canvas after canvas with force and precision. Her paintings were like if Pollock had been an astrophysicist, bringing you into a different world as a lone explorer. From darkness and emptiness came lights, worlds, destruction, and silence. I was impressed, as everyone seemed to be, but I worried about her. There was something I couldn’t help but notice that troubled me about her painting: her expression. While writing songs and playing guitar, creating out of joy, she was always leaving a trace of herself in it. Watching her paint, I didn’t feel that. I felt determination, urgency, and fear.
In our senior year, Cassie got offered a scholarship to some art school. She didn’t have a lot of options; her dedication to painting, and listless approach to anything else, meant her grades had dropped significantly. I asked her if she intended to take it, and she shrugged and said that it ”didn’t matter”. I urged her to go, telling her that she had a real talent, and that I knew she could make it big like we used to talk about. She looked at me then; the tiredness in her eyes, bringing a hint of nostalgia to the surface, and a ghost of a smile. I hadn’t seen her smile for so long, no matter how little.
As graduation neared, Cassie told me that she was having a showing of her art. She’d found the ”perfect place”, and wanted me to help her set everything up. After school, she brought me to a small, abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of our district. It was pretty clear that no one in their right mind would think that the place was fit to act as a gallery, but Cassie didn’t seem deterred. ”Were we trespassing?” I asked her, as we headed back to the car. ”Yes”, she answered, ”But it’s important”. We spent the next week driving back and forth between the school and the warehouse. A few days before graduation, she asked me not to come anymore. She told me that she was grateful for my help, but that she needed to finish installing the pieces on her own.
”When the rain comes, meet me here” was the last thing she said before we parted ways. I wondered what she was talking about; the forecast had said that it was likely to remain sunny for at least a week. I didn’t ask, though, but I wish I had.
She didn’t come to school those last few days.
We were listening to the principal speak when the first drops started falling. The skies had turned a dark grey, and thunder rolled in the distance. The wind was picking up, and a few graduates shouted as their hats blew away. As the rain intensified, they started moving the rest of the ceremony inside. I got up from my seat with the others, but headed further out as they headed in. The weather got worse by the minute it seemed, and I started running to my car. Cassie’s words were ringing in my ears, and I couldn’t help but feel that something was horribly wrong.
When I arrived at the warehouse, it was a full-blown storm. The rain seemed almost horizontal because of the wind, and by the time I got inside I was soaked to the skin. ”Cassie?” I called out into the darkness, but I received no answer.
In the light coming in through the door I could see lit candles set up in a line. I closed the door behind me, and walked toward the flickering lights. As I separated myself from the tempest outside, I started to make out the trail Cassie had made for me; candles set up to illuminate the right path along the story she wanted to tell. I started walking at a slow pace between her paintings, letting her guide me.
Before, I’d only ever seen her paintings as individual works with a common theme. Seeing them this way, lined up in their proper order, it became clear that they were much more than that. They were a journey. As I passed from one work to the next, I felt as I was traveling across some vast expanse of space, through the deep of our universe. I saw solar systems, galaxies, stars, planets pass me by. I saw world after world collapse and be destroyed, leaving fragments and moving on to the next. It was both amazing and terrifying.
I wandered along the journey Cassie took me through, when something started to dawn on me; recognition. This was no longer a just a brilliant visualization of the enormousness of space… it had a final destination. I felt myself grow cold. For each painting I passed, I grew more certain of what I would find at the end.
I gazed up at the wall bearing Cassie’s final work, as I held her close. “When?” I wanted to ask her, but I knew it would be impossible to wake her. She had been laying on the floor below the painting, sleeping, when I found her. I had picked her up, but felt somehow how far away from me she was. I wondered if she’d ever wake up again, before it came. Looking down on us from he canvas were the remnants of the destruction it would leave behind. She had truly done a masterful job of capturing the End.