Thin Crust

How could one explain that there were edges to the ocean, and now a place to fall from?

Illustration by Lynn Scurfield
Illustration by Lynn Scurfield

The fisherman only got a quick glimpse. Normally the morning light that burst forth from the waves was a panacea; it made fumbling in darkness into a cold boat reeking of dried fish slime worth it. Today, however, something was amiss. He crooked his neck to check the shoreline of Los Cabos, the city’s jagged teeth just visible. He turned back to watch the horizon line as it wavered unevenly, then set as if turned to stone. It was close to him, a frozen indigo wall stretching the length of his vision. The man looked upward, squinting, bothered by the umber insistence that all was normal; the sun was coming up just as it always had. There was quiet—too much of it, an unnatural silencing of the sea’s voice. The man felt this non-noise in his stomach as a dull stab of fear before his head rendered meaning. A cormorant flew past, dipped into the waves, missed its catch. It flew on, black body flapping toward the shadowy void, where it slipped silently into nothing. There. Not there. The fisherman blinked as if willing the vision to dissipate. Soon the fish followed. First, only a few flung their bodies over this horizontal partition, slices of wet muscle absorbed into space. Then a shoal of silvery herring, vomiting themselves into the abyss, soaring between where the sky should be and where the ocean should have welcomed them into another breath.

The man began to pray. What else was he to do?

Dios te salve Maria llena eres de gracia…

He listened now, sharpening all of his attention to what might be. The remaining waves moved his small boat toward the fleeing fish, the invisible bird. They lapped at the fibreglass, making a sound he’d always loved, like little warm blankets of noise. He continued to pray and dropped the oars, instead focusing on the backs of his hands, hands hewn by fishing hooks, weathered by salt and sun. They shook momentarily.

The seafarers saw it first, from their watery vantage points around the globe. They did not have the words to relay what they were seeing. How could one explain that there were edges to the ocean, and now a place to fall from? This could not be possible. Nor could it be possible that the waves no longer rose and fell. They had died, leaving behind a hazy mirror. The sky was impossibly still, wispy clouds replaced by cumulus, fat sheep lazing in the blue. As far as anyone knew, time was still passing, clocks were still working. They were all still breathing, speaking, no? There was a camaraderie, a brotherhood, on the ships. We are in this together; we are seeing this together. Can we confirm what this is? Was it a continental shift, a new drop-off? Was this smear of oblivion some trickery of the light? They picked up headsets and radios, tried to explain, until they would see a ship in front of them dissolve into nothing. Then they dropped the handsets and tried in vain to turn around, no longer thrilled with the prospect of learning something new before anyone else. On land, incoming messages were garbled, confusing. Slavic, Icelandic, and Asiatic voices burst from the airwaves, straining to be heard, like marbles swirling at the bottom of a barrel. The sea has an edge. We are falling off the Earth. Or simply Aggghhhhhhh!! This caused alarm, but not as much as the fact that cellphone coverage was now spotty at best.

The masses were annoyed. What was wrong with the satellites? Millions of swears lifted into the air, a salty brine of languages dipped in confusion and anger. What the hell. Is. Wrong?

No explanation, nothing. This was an outrage. Who had done this? ISIS? Was everyone under attack? Had the cell tower down the street just fritzed out? They paid a lot for this service, you know. Things like this were not supposed to happen, not for more than three minutes at a time. People bumped into each other on the sidewalks, checking and rechecking. They held their hands aloft, hoping for a signal. The fact that everyone was having the same problem did not bode well. Not all of them could have missed their payments. They held their devices like dying animals they had devoted their lives to. Please. Please work. My life is on here.

The first person to call would be the scientist. So they did call him—all the important people did, anyway. The scientist answered the phone diligently for about an hour, at which point he got sick of saying I don’t know anything yet and pinched out the cord from the back of the phone. Think, man. He’d presented his thesis to the board six months ago. Scientific American had done a piece on it. Everyone agreed it had gone over well, even though the findings couldn’t be proven. Dark energy was one of those things: it might not even exist. Einstein had thought it did, and everyone else thought the possibility was there, too. His mother had liked the article, although she hadn’t understood most of it. He thought this might have been the case with many readers. They nodded in the right places and asked a few questions, but really it had flown right over them, thought bubbles bursting into droplets of stale air.

The scientist scratched at his beard, which he had grown after losing a bet but had later begun to like. He looked like a dapper young homeless man with his thin coat and his scruffy face. It suited him. Made people stare into his blue eyes, avoiding a good look at his unkempt accoutrements. It threw them off, which he found useful. The scientist didn’t like to be packaged. He’d done that himself, and now he was without a family, a hobby, a habit. He was a man consumed. This might prove to be a good thing. Perhaps it was meant to be, this consumption. He could give back, make it all worth it. He checked the DEMOS (Dark Energy Multi-Object Spectrometer), thankfully still in contact, and began typing v = H0D. The scientist added more numbers, then plugged the phone back in. He made a call to a seismologist, a friend. She confirmed they had also been conducting tests. Had he heard about Utah? No, he had not. No time for Utah, she said. The crust is only twelve miles down. What, the scientist said. You heard me, she said. The scientist hung up the phone. Where had the rest of it gone? As of now, the Earth was flat.

Bryce canyon was as beautiful as Utah could get, and the couple were hiking all the way up to Rainbow Ridge. It was remote, secluded, and with a name like that, something good was bound to happen, some spark could be lit. The couple were happy. At least, they told themselves they were fairly happy, and that more recent painful events were just a momentary blip on the relationship scale. They would go and see some natural beauty like they used to. She had recently found religion. He had not. This was only one of the sticking points. They were going to shelve it for this early-morning hike, and they were the first in the park, the first to drive to the very top. Parking off the beaten path, they hiked along the plateau, holding hands. She thought this might be forcing it—he was trying too hard, and it impaired her manoeuvring of the trail. But she liked the warmth and roughness of his working hand holding her manicured one. They could do this. The couple burst through the last few trees and exhaled, stunned by the beauty before them. The amphitheatre of golden-red rock was eerily beautiful: swaths of ochre, strokes of fir green. The park pamphlet had said breathtaking and magnificent, and he immediately felt those were inadequate platitudes. He turned his head to tell her so, pausing to consider small wisps of hair dancing around the edges of her shoulders. She was still so very beautiful. He meant to say this, but paused, puzzled. She frowned, her face crumpling as she pointed one lanky finger forward. Their personal viewfinder was burning up around the edges. The scene before them was eroding like the aluminum inside an Etch-A-Sketch shaken by the Almighty. This is what she thought, anyway. God is loosening his hold. God is planning something for me. I knew it. I knew it.

He just thought, What the fuck?!

It was now just empty blackness, beyond their rocky perch. The sun continued to shine behind them, casting a glow over the shimmering nothingness. She made as if to touch it, and he shouted at her. She turned and smiled at him, and then pitched herself in.

There was a flint spark, a shudder into cold space. Tiny flecks of light all around her. The cold was fleeting, replaced by an awareness that she shared molecules with every one of these stars. She’d known this, heard it in the messages: she was one of God’s special spirit children. One day they would rise into His realm, before the others. She had been chosen. These thoughts peeled away as consciousness departed, replaced by a practical freedom that reflected none of her previous patterns of existence. There was light, there was motion, and there was a community of cells that fit together, all previous confines giving way to a subtle warmth. There was a transitory arching beam. She was consumed by something larger.

The scientist focused on his computer now, sifting through the options, prioritizing them in a matter of seconds. He pulled up the DEMOS view on his computer. The picture was fading already, reaching the outskirts. It blinked into darkness, a shifting inkiness, as if a wet towel had been thrown over the telescopic eye. It strained for light, finding tiny bits. He scrutinized the screen, but there was nothing. He was willing the light to be there. It must be. It could be, if the expansion of space could accelerate . . . hadn’t it all been in the article? The discrepancy in measurements, the acoustic oscillatory data collected from near and distant galaxies . . . It could happen. It was very unlikely to consume only half a planet, but, hey, this was really quite unknown stuff here. Odd, for sure. But a definite maybe. The math didn’t completely support the theory, but it had never occurred to anyone to apply it this way, so, yeah. The scientist linked his tower signal to his computer. If anyone was listening, he would let them know what he thought. He keyed in his most powerful telescope and directed it into the void.

The masses were taking it all in now. News from around the world showed shot after shot of the antimatter, until the satellites blinked out one by one. Children were sent outside to play and told not to worry. They did worry, but kept themselves occupied until they were allowed to know more. The west coast of North America was seemingly gone, along with its real estate hierarchy. A few had discerned that the Edge bisected the Earth neatly, cleaved it in two. That was the rumour. If family was close by, they went to each other, offering their sweating bodies and worried frowns as comfort. If loved ones were in China, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Alaska, or most of Russia, well, there was no hope.

There wasn’t the panic one might expect. It was as if this Edge, this Dark, exuded a calm peace, a vibrational healing. Of course this didn’t work on everybody (just as some people are repulsed by the smell of lavender). A few ran about bearing makeshift signs of doom, shouted from the tops of courtyard spaces. Some smashed windows and made to take things, but then realized there wasn’t much point if they couldn’t even get Netflix. The ones with guns and ammunition felt quite vindicated—this was the moment they had planned for all along. But after hunkering down in safe houses and bunkers, they, too, failed to see why. Maybe they should just talk with one another, speak in truths. They laid hands on shoulders, shared things they wished they’d done, things they were proud to have been a part of. What was the craziest thing that had ever happened to them? They searched one another’s eyes and found answers. Some travelled to remote places to be with those who had no family left. Those in the most remote locations stayed where they were, somewhat oblivious to the hoo-ha, except for a feeling of peace. It was a nice day on the mountain.

The scientist spoke into his computer, wearing his most serious expression.

. . . And I have been proposing this scenario for years: this kind of thing could have happened at any time, really. We are at the mercy of the forces of nature. I do not think this is the time to panic, however—this is the time for the world to come together. To build our new future . . . He had always wanted to give an important speech, one that would cause him to be recognized as a leader with a mind of great expansiveness.

The scientist, realizing that he had paused, decided that he should continue to pull out as many words of substance as he could muster. A future in which we pool our resources, support the remaining population with innovation . . .

A blip on the screen next to him. The scientist remembered to excuse himself.

One moment.

He turned his full attention to the telescopic screen. There was something in the darkness. He opened his eyes wide, blinking away any haziness. No, there was something. Not just a blip or an eyelash. He moved his face closer to the screen. No need—it was coming to him. The black was acquiring a magenta edge, a dark nebulous colour. The scientist fumbled inside his desk drawer and found only useless office supplies. He took the stapler out and gripped it tightly, releasing a tiny shard of metal. He pushed it again. It felt right to dispense staples, to waste them.

Plink. Plink. Plink.

A mound of pink slowly came into view, flanked by two bits of white. The mound moved closer, acquired a ridged edge, like whale bones. The darkness lightened, soft shades of purple coming into focus. The scientist remembered that his colleague had borrowed the magnifying glass and threw himself toward her desk to fetch it, flinging the stapler across the room. He yanked open a drawer and there it was—the reliable stick-and-lens. He ran back and bent over his screen, placing the glass over the left edge and then the right, searching. He forgot all about those that might be watching him, those who were, in fact, watching him with their breath caught in their throats.

The scientist sat back in his chair. Huh.

He walked with measured steps back to his colleague’s desk. Rummaging through the drawers, he found a compact mirror. He sat down in her chair, held the mirror up to his mouth, inspecting his back teeth, the molars. He focused on the uvula, something he never thought much about, except that it had an exceptional name for a bodily part. He ran one finger along the back of his mouth, feeling the ridges, noting their pointy contours. He lowered the mirror and slowly placed it on the desk. He pushed himself upright and returned to his computer. The screen came sharply into focus. The white mounds looked definitive. As the swinging pink lump propelled itself forward, the scientist collected the bits of information, drew parallels, slotted the new formula together in his mind. He smiled. This was something he had not prepared for, a possibility that had never come up. Then he laughed as one unburdened, hooting. The masses watching took this as a good sign and smiled, patted one another on the back. They did not fear the shadow that crept across the room.

Erin MacNair
Erin MacNair (@TheErinAngle) is the winner of the first-annual Writers Adventure Camp Fiction Contest. Her stories have been included in the anthologies Hidden Lives, Fuse, and National Voices.
Lynn Scurfield
Lynn Scurfield is an illustrator. Her work has appeared in The Scientist, the Globe and Mail, and Corporate Knights.