The Last Photon

by Brian Biswas

I emerge from the black hole into the blackness of space. It is an immense, all-encompassing darkness and I shudder. I have experienced darkness such as this only once before, when I was in Sugar Run Cave in southwestern Virginia. Our guide thought it would be amusing to turn off the lights that lit up the cavern. For a full minute we were in total darkness. Not a single photon to see by. A year of this and one would go blind, the guide said and laughed.

And then he took me aside and whispered into my ear: Pluto is not a planet because it does not reside in the zodiac.

This may be so, I tell him, however it has been in the zodiac my entire life, in the constellation Ophiuchus, a constellation people say is not a zodiacal constellation because Ptolemy did not include it in his list. But that is hardly a scientific explanation. It is readily apparent he is trying to undermine my credentials, but I will have none of it. Pluto is a planet, I insist. And I am the astronomer who discovered it.

Hmm, he continued, what do we have here? A planet that is not a planet, a constellation that is not a constellation, an astronomer who is not an astronomer.

This is what I've had to contend with my entire life.

#

Thanatos was the god of Death, though he is rarely spoken of in myth. He is not to be confused with Hades who was the god of the underworld. Rather, Thanatos was the personification of death. He was the son of Nyx and the twin brother of Hypnos. He was hideous, painful, cruel, brooding, mocking, and malignant.

Thanatos was the most hated of the gods for he took away life. If one were lucky he came in old age, though he could come at any time, and he often did so without warning. The only thing known for certain is that he would come one day.

#

My spaceship has vanished — it was eaten up by the black hole — and I have been left to fend for myself. I am perched atop a beam of light, hurtling through the vacuum of space. It is odd, but I am not afraid. I feel safe atop this beam of light, charging ahead at a speed of 186,000 miles per second. I shall think no more of my life on Earth, of my wife and child whom I have left behind.

A beam of light is a very interesting phenomenon. This one is two feet wide and six feet thick. The rays emanate from all sides, top and bottom. The amount of energy in a beam of light is dependent on the source of the light. For the Sun the energy is about 15,000 watts per square foot. This beam is much cooler than that. There is a feeling of gentle warmth coursing through it. I have no idea where this beam originated, but I note that it contains all the colors of the rainbow. Perhaps it was shot from the black hole itself and contains everything that ever was.

Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain. That is how we remember the colors of the rainbow. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. I have never ridden a prettier beam of light. I am a cosmic traveler and I am in a real mess now. I would fall on my knees and pray except that I am already on my knees and all the gods I would pray to are dead.

#

I know what you are thinking: you are thinking I am crazy and that what I need is a good therapist. The truth of the matter is this: what I am experiencing is the final stage of a disease which has slowly been devouring me. I hear voices. I see the face of my wife as she looks down on me. And of my son who is also near. Who are they but two Charons to guide me across the river to the land of Hades which lies on the other shore?

I reach out to touch a face but there is no one there.

I call out the name of Isabella but she does not answer.

Neither does my son respond to my cries.

Are they there? Do they hear me?

Do they hear and ignore me?

As everyone ignores me.

Me, the forgotten, the cast-aside.

I recall the last time I saw Isabella. It was the day after she said she was leaving me. You might think I was upset, but I wasn't upset at all. I felt relieved. Instead of trying to be something I was not — a husband — this would free me to be that which I truly was: a cosmic traveler. At the same time I was saddened for I loved Isabella more than anything in the cosmos.

#

I hurtle through the cosmos on a beam of light. I feel myself fading and I realize what is about to happen. I can see through myself now, through my flesh. It is rather unsettling. I must write rapidly before my fingers fade and there will be no more words. The beam begins to dissipate and it is not long before I am upon the last of the last. The last ray of light. The last photon. I had always thought that when I reached the point of my death I would recall the main events of my life but this does not happen. I am fascinated only by what lies before me. It is a never-ending darkness. A coldness. A void. I am a mad scientist upon his atomic bomb. "Hi-ho!" I cry as I rush headlong into that space from which I will never return.

Everything around me dissipates and it is as it was before the very beginning.

#

It is not known how Zeus died. It is not even known if Zeus died, for it has always been believed that the gods are immortal. Even so that does not mean they will always rule over Earth and over Heaven and Hell.

I, however, have come to believe that Zeus is no more — that he does not exist as you and I know existence — and I try to imagine his death. Perhaps he grew tired of Hera's haranguing. She was a jealous woman and he was never really free to do as he wished.

Perhaps he grew weary of mediating between gods and men. The conflicts between them were constant and I can only imagine the energy he expended to keep the peace.

Perhaps his brothers, Poseidon and Hades, envious of his supreme position, waged war against him, overthrew him after a war that lasted many years, and exiled him from Olympus.

Or perhaps it was more mundane. Perhaps he simply grew old and left of his own accord. Shuffled off the godly stage.

Of course all this begs the question: where do gods go when they die? They cannot retire to Tartarus or the Elysian Fields, for they rule over those lands — they would never really have left! The gods, one would imagine, have their own resting place. A place where they can frolic forever.

But I do not believe that this is so. I think even gods tire one day of being gods. They yearn for another place. A place where they are totally alone. Isolated from the world of man and from each other.

There are places not known to men and it is there that the gods retire, places so foreign to the human mind that they cannot even be imagined. I think I am entering such a place now.

#

The last lucid thoughts of a dying man, the last imaginings of one who soon will be no more.... The universe is in oscillation. From the explosion that created the matter which coalesced into our world came the space that we inhabit. This space has been expanding for fourteen billion years but it will not expand forever. Already the expansion is slowing and soon will come to a dead halt. Then under the influence of gravity it will contract until a final implosion takes place fourteen billion years hence. The universe will transform itself into a black hole that collapses into a single point, a singularity. A mathematical construct.

But this is only the beginning. The process repeats. This never-ending sequence of events can be compared to the beating of a human heart which expands and contracts, seemingly forever. Imagine that! Within our own bodies is mirrored the universe in which we live. Will events repeat themselves in subsequent expansions so that twenty-eight billion years from now I will again find myself on a beam of light that is streaking through the heavens as I pen these very words?

There is more, but I tire. I must return one more time to the world which bore me to pay final homage to Isabella.

And I now know what I will tell her.


Brian Biswas lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with his wife and two children. His work has recently appeared in Iconoclast and Skive. His short story, "A Betrayal," was published in Issue #11 of The Cafe Irreal; "The Room at the End of the World" appeared in Issue #14; "The Bridge" appeared in Issue #18; and "In the Garden" in Issue #33.