It’s snowing in March on the deserted campus of Mississippi State University, where Anna Molson pessimistically evaluates her afternoon interview with the assistant dean of the Geosciences Department. An Arctic hydrogeologist, she applied for a teaching position in a lukewarm attempt to revive a romance she’s not sure deserves rescue, which is why she’s sitting in the campus Starbucks when a bearded man offers her a slug of Jack Daniels to spice up her coffee.
That’s Rowan Eastman, who interviewed for the same position two days earlier but is stuck at MSU by the weather. All flights out of Jackson, three hours away, have been cancelled by heavy rain turned to sleet, then snow, so he wanders the deserted university sipping from a flask he bought in an off-campus liquor store and contemplates the ruins of his once-promising career. It’s the fifth university interview he’s endured in his job search – second PhD in abject failure, dissertation pending – and knows this one went straight to hell the moment he shouted “Zealot? What’s that mean?” at the assistant dean.
So the Ph.Ds adjourn to Rowan’s room at the Butler Guest House, the university’s on-campus hotel, staffed tonight solely by Jeremiah at the Desk of Endless Suffering. He should be writing a political science paper, but is instead crafting his social media presence – what his roommate calls his Jeremyass – as part of his struggle to understand
Were people just more closeted at MSU, or was it a self-selecting thing: gay students intuiting the conservative heart of Mississippi might not the best place to go to college?
And then Drs. Henderson Anders and Nancy Poole materialize out of the snow with a picnic basket and a bottle of wine to replace Anna’s drowned welcome dinner, and weird suddenly lurches toward bizarre.
As the evening passes in a strange weather vortex, the four professors’ predictions of the coming climate apocalypse grow more alarming in direct proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed. And while Jeremiah watches from the Desk of Complete Confusion, the four descend into a realm of short-term insanity fueled by liquor, Jolly Ranchers, Lou Reed, and Johnny Cash.
But just as weather simply reflects climate in a certain time and place, the atmospheric pressure changes when, after finding Dr Molson passed out under the Desk of Morning Regret, Jeremiah confronts her drunken fatalism with a simple statement:
“It seems to me,” Jeremiah says, choosing his words carefully, “that you shouldn’t give up hope until you’ve done everything you can.”
And with that assertion, Jeremiah unknowingly creates a new future, not only for those in the Butler Guest House, but on the campus of Mississippi State University, in the city of Starkville, and throughout the known – and unknown – world.
The Way The World Ends is part of Amazon Original Stories‘ 2018 collection, Warmer. It’s a free read for Prime members; also available for purchase @ $1.99.