The long-awaited sequel to Wake Me After the Apocalypse launches today! Thank you to everyone who read the first book and sent me such kind messages about it. I’m so grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to continue exploring this world. I hope you enjoy the next adventure!
You can get Meet Me at World’s End on Amazon as an ebook or paperback or read it for free with Kindle Unlimited. The audiobook edition is coming soon.
Here is the first chapter!
Charlotte: T-minus 9 months and 6 days
Charlotte refused to look at the time on her phone. Damien must have a good reason for being late.
She waited on the snowy quad near the ice-encrusted statue of the college’s founder, wiggling her toes inside her snow boots to keep warm. The humanities building blocked her view of the dorms, but any minute now, Damien would traipse around the corner with his long limbs swinging. She needed to give him more time.
The afternoon class period ended, and students flooded out of the redbrick buildings around the quad, wrapping scarves around their necks and shuddering at the sudden cold. The icy wind blew Charlotte’s blond curls into her face. She pulled her turquoise peacoat tighter, dividing her attention between the passing students and the corner of the humanities building. Still no Damien.
She must have been waiting for forty minutes. She snuck a glance at the clock tower on the science building across the quad. Make that forty-two minutes.
Her friends Aisling and Safwan, from astronomy class, waved at her from the science building steps. Coffee cups steamed invitingly in their hands. Charlotte should really join them. Forty-two minutes was too long to wait in the cold for a boy.
Still, she couldn’t help watching for Damien’s sandy hair and jaunty stride. Maybe his phone had died. Or maybe she’d gotten the time wrong. Charlotte was chronically overorganized, but she could have made a mistake.
She’d met the lanky economics major when she was lugging her new suitcase—a gift from her grandpa—up a slush-covered path the day she returned from winter break. Damien flashed her a grin and offered to carry the suitcase up the snowy hill and three flights of stairs to her dorm room. She fixed him hot chocolate from a packet while he told her about the pranks he’d pulled as a freshman, making her laugh until her sides ached.
Over the next few days, they’d exchanged flirtatious texts and agreed to meet again on the quad. But Damien still hadn’t appeared, and Charlotte was running out of excuses for him. She fumbled her phone from her pocket to check the time. Forty-seven minutes. It was official. He’d stood her up without so much as a text.
She abandoned control of her curls to the wind. She shouldn’t have waited so long. Forty-seven minutes. Pathetic. Her mom said she needed to show more backbone. Insisted upon it, in fact. She wouldn’t have waited more than twenty minutes.
A breaking news alert scrolled across Charlotte’s phone screen. She tried to swipe it out of the way, but it didn’t respond to her gloved fingers.
She tapped absently at the screen, thinking about her strong-willed mother, Rebecca, back in Portland. Her mother had one of those big, effervescent personalities that made people want to stop and chat and bask in her laughter. Charlotte—shorter, rounder, and less magnetic—tended to fade at her side. Charlotte’s mom hadn’t wanted her to attend this snow-and-ivy-covered New England college at all. Despite being estranged from her mom for over a decade, Grandpa Hartland had paid Charlotte’s tuition, and her decision to accept his assistance had become a sticky source of tension between them. Charlotte couldn’t tell her mom that fitting in here was harder than she’d expected.
Another news alert appeared on Charlotte’s phone screen then another, flashing so fast she couldn’t read the first. The screen still wouldn’t respond to her gloved fingers.
Charlotte glanced up. Students all across the quad had their eyes glued to their phones—a common enough sight. But they were holding their screens a little too close to their faces, tapping frantically, moving into small, anxious groups. That wasn’t normal at all.
Heart beating faster, Charlotte removed her glove with her teeth and tapped the first alert.
Breaking News: Comet Bound for Earth
She read the phrase three times before the meaning sank in. A comet, a huge hunk of rock and metal, was hurtling through space on a direct course for Earth.
She tapped through the stories, unable to process much beyond the headlines.
It’s Going to Hit Us
Scientists Predict Total Annihilation
Charlotte’s ears and fingers started to sting, but she barely registered the cold. Anxious murmurs rippled across the quad, repeating the same phrases over and over.
A comet. An apocalypse. The end of the world.
It has to be a joke. Charlotte seized onto the thought. This was one of those social media stunts to sell a video game or something.
A boy leaned against the college founder’s statue nearby and declared he wouldn’t “fall for it like all you sheeple.” But his friends were too busy reading the news on their phones to pay attention.
Charlotte couldn’t ignore the reports either. The announcement was breaking all over the world, exploding onto every front page, shattering normality with momentous force. This was really happening.
It’s Going to Hit Us
She jumped as Aisling and Safwan appeared in front of her. They had discarded their coffee cups, and they tugged anxiously at their scarves and coat buttons.
“We’re going to find Professor Choi.” Aisling brushed her blunt red bangs out of her eyes, revealing a worried crinkle in her forehead. “We can ask him if it’s true what the comet will do. Want to come?”
“I can’t. I’m meeting someone for—” Charlotte broke off as she realized what she was saying.
She looked at the corner of the humanities building, getting the eerie sensation that this was the last moment of her normal life. Waiting in the cold for a boy who stood her up. What a way to spend her final forty-seven minutes in the old world.
She wiped her nose on her coat sleeve and turned to her friends. “Let’s go talk to the professor.”
Hunching their shoulders against the wind, they crossed the quad to the huge redbrick science building, where they’d taken Professor Choi’s astronomy class together.
“He’ll say it’s not real, won’t he?” Safwan asked. “It’s a mistake.”
Charlotte curled her fingers around the phone in her pocket as if she could squeeze the terrifying news back into the device. “I hope so.”
Aisling gave a slightly frantic laugh. “Some mistake.”
They entered the building and climbed the stairs to the fifth floor, their boots squeaking with every step. They didn’t talk, each occupied with their own spiraling thoughts. Charlotte repeated the headlines as if they were seared to her eyelids.
Comet Bound for Earth
Scientists Predict Total Annihilation
Her breathing grew heavier, her limbs warming after her long wait in the cold. Maybe it was a mistake. It couldn’t be as bad as the headlines made it sound. The comet would pass them, and the world would keep spinning, and everything would sort itself out.
Charlotte, Aisling, and Safwan weren’t the only ones who thought to go straight to the astronomy professor. A large group of chattering students milled in the hallway outside the fifth-floor faculty offices. Many hadn’t bothered removing their winter gear, and melting snow and salt smeared the floor.
“Professor Choi hasn’t come out yet,” Aisling reported after speaking to a junior she knew from lab. “Janine says he’s going to make a statement.”
“Someone will fix all this, right?” Safwan asked, tugging on his earlobe.
“Yes,” Charlotte said. “The government will have a plan.”
“Or the military,” Aisling said.
“Right,” Charlotte said. “Experts. They’ll know what to do.”
Similar conversations played out around them as they crammed into the hallway, their boots slipping on the slick linoleum. The students reassured each other, even though they had no idea what was going to happen. They shared information on their phones. Offered possible solutions.
“Maybe they’ll resurrect the space program,” said a scrawny freshman as he elbowed past. “Like they had back in the day.”
“Can a rocket ship stop a comet that big?” his friend asked.
“Do I look like I know anything about space? I’m a Classics major!”
The pair shoved forward, eager to reach the astronomy faculty. Charlotte felt about as equipped to handle the threat as the Classics major. She’d taken a bunch of survey courses to placate both her mom and her grandpa last semester, but she planned to declare history as her major. She liked organizing sources, piecing together the mysteries of the past. She didn’t know anything about the future.
“I read the comet’s going to kill everyone,” said a girl crowding close behind Charlotte. “Like the dinosaurs.”
“It’s bigger than the one that killed the dinosaurs,” another girl said.
“Actually, the comet didn’t kill all the dinosaurs,” put in a boy hovering next to them. “It altered the atmosphere, and they couldn’t survive the changing—”
“Will you shut up about the dinosaurs?” Aisling snapped, rounding on the surprised group.
Charlotte touched her friend’s arm, hoping to prevent a confrontation. “Let’s get closer. We won’t be able to hear anything back here.”
Aisling glared at the other group, daring them to mention dinosaurs again.
“Aisling,” Charlotte said quietly.
Her friend shook herself, brushing her bangs out of her eyes. Safwan had switched from tugging his earlobes to chewing his fingernails. They were all on edge, barely keeping it together.
Then a boy with spiky blue hair climbed onto a filing cabinet at the front of the crowd and shouted over the clamor. “Professor Choi is here!”
Charlotte linked arms with Aisling, and they jostled forward, Safwan following in their wake.
Last semester, they had taken an intro-level course with Professor Choi, an affable, sharp-witted man who maintained a friendly rivalry with the head of the better-funded cryogenics department on the ground floor. Now the diminutive professor looked drained, as if he’d lost thirty pounds he didn’t have to spare. His shirt was untucked, his cartoon planet bow tie askew. Professor Choi always wore science-themed bow ties, never the same one twice. Charlotte, Safwan, and Aisling had kept a tally on their group chat last semester.
None of that matters now. Charlotte kept fixating on insignificant things. The bow tie. The slippery linoleum beneath her boots. The scratchy wool of her coat against her neck. The last thing she’d said to her mom at the airport. That one wasn’t insignificant, but she couldn’t remember her words. Had they been loving? Harsh? Had she been too distracted to say a proper goodbye as she juggled her ID, phone, and laptop in the security line?
Fearing she’d regret her words if she remembered them, she reached for her phone to call her mom. Then the professor spoke.
“I understand you all have questions.” Professor Choi cleared his throat and fumbled with his loose shirttails. “I will answer to the best of my—”
“Are we going to die?” shouted the blue-haired boy on the filing cabinet.
Professor Choi blinked. “We can’t yet be certain—”
“The news said it’s going to hit on September twentieth,” someone else called out.
The professor searched for the speaker in the crowd. “Oh yes. Well, I do not—”
“That sounds certain to me,” called the boy with the blue hair.
Voices spilled over each other, the students competing to have their questions answered and their fears allayed. They pressed closer to the professor.
“Can’t we stop the comet?”
“What if it hits the ocean?”
“Can the army blow it up before it gets here?”
“Ah,” Professor Choi managed to interject. “In that case, the fragments would likely alter our atmosphere so much that—”
“Did you know it was coming?” shouted someone in the back.
Murmurs swelled through the crowd. “People had to know, right?”
“Were they hiding it?”
“Did you know?”
“What are we going to do?”
Charlotte felt sorry for Professor Choi as the questions bombarded him. He rubbed his face, pushing his glasses up his forehead. All these years of being relegated to the top floor of the sciences building while the cryogenics department got the best funding, and now everyone expected him to save the world.
“We should get people to calm down and listen,” she said to her friends.
But Aisling and Safwan were shouting questions, too, trying to be heard over the noise. Maybe noise wasn’t an adequate word. Some students were arguing. Others were trying to force their way into an astrophysics professor’s office. At least three people were crumpled on the salt-slick linoleum, in the throes of full-blown anxiety attacks. Chaos. Panic. That was what this was.
Charlotte wasn’t panicking. The foggy paralysis of a dream had her in its grip, as if everything since that forty-seventh minute when she looked at her phone wasn’t really happening.
But she wasn’t dreaming. She wouldn’t wake up. And she wanted answers.
She filled her lungs. “Everybody shut up and let him talk!”
Aisling gave her a startled look. Charlotte was usually soft-spoken, and she tended to fade into crowds. Shouting wasn’t like her. But if this was the last day of the old world, it was the last day of the old Charlotte too.
“Keep quiet, please,” she called out. “Professor Choi will help us if we give him a chance to speak.”
To her surprise, the group nearest to her listened and took up the call, helping to quiet their fellow students. A ripple of tenuous calm spread outward until Professor Choi’s voice could be heard over the clamor.
“The college will make an official statement this evening,” he told them. “The only answer I can give you is this. The comet is bigger than anything we’ve encountered in my twenty-seven-year career, and it’s on a direct path for Earth.” He paused. No one moved or breathed, the calm hanging by a thread. “I do not believe humanity will survive this. Please find a way to make peace with your loved ones, and do your best not to pan—”
If Professor Choi had more advice, no one heard it. The truth dropped into the middle of the crowd like a grenade, and somewhere between “direct path for Earth” and “make peace with your loved ones,” the students lost their grips.
They spun and jostled, starting and stopping, unsure what to do with their voices or their bodies or their fear. Then panic burst loose like water from a dam, and as if they had all decided at the same moment, the students began to run.
It was a mad dash of flailing limbs and skidding boots. Some people cried as they ran, gasping, open-mouthed sobs contorting their faces. It wasn’t clear how running or crying would help, but no one could stand still in the face of this new reality.
The flood of students surged down the hall, sweeping Charlotte up on the way to the stairwell. She couldn’t resist the torrent. Aisling was with her one moment and gone the next. Safwan struggled farther back in the crowd, but she couldn’t slow down to wait for him. The crowd carried her along with too much force.
Halfway down the hall, Charlotte passed an elevator crammed so full the doors wouldn’t close, the persistent dinging beating in time with the cacophony. In the next classroom, another anxious mob surrounded another science professor.
The stampede forced Charlotte onward—right past the elusive Damien, who crouched behind a water fountain, tears streaming down his face. In the old world, Charlotte might have adjusted her hair and pretended not to see him. Or she might have asked innocently whether she’d gotten the meeting time wrong. She might even have believed some excuse about a dead phone battery and an unexpected commitment. But this wasn’t the old world.
Charlotte picked up speed as she reached the stairs, still not sure where anyone was going. They couldn’t outrun the comet. They couldn’t turn back the clock. They couldn’t fight it.
Or could they? Humans had achieved remarkable things in their relatively short history. They had discovered fire and sent airplanes soaring into the sky. They had learned to delay death through cryogenic sleep. With the internet, they had connected the world. They could find a solution.
But her faith in humanity stuttered as she started down the stairs with the screaming, panicking students. It was utter madness, all shoving and stumbling and bleating cries.
A girl slipped on the steps and crashed to the landing a floor below. No one so much as slowed as they trampled her legs with their snow boots.
Charlotte paused to haul the girl to her feet, taking an elbow to the ribs in the process.
“Are you all—”
“Let go of me!” the girl shrieked.
“I’m just trying to help—”
“We have to get out of here!” The girl wrenched free and limped on down the stairs.
Before Charlotte could move, someone collided with her from behind, knocking her against the wall. She glimpsed a white-haired professor shoving past, as panicked as the students. Another elbow slammed her solar plexus, making her keel over and gasp for breath. She had to keep moving, or she’d be trampled too.
Charlotte rejoined the stampede, rushing along with the wild flood.
At the second-floor landing, traffic slowed as a huge mass of students tried to escape the large lecture hall named after the founder of modern cryogenics. A girl from Charlotte’s dorm brandished the jagged edge of a broken beaker to clear a path. Another did the same with a heavy textbook.
Charlotte ducked the swinging textbook. She was almost to the bottom. She’d make it out of this madhouse, and then . . . She didn’t know what she’d do then.
I need to call Mom. She should have done it sooner, but she’d wanted to make sure this was all really happening.
She pulled out her phone as she approached the ground floor. The doors at the bottom were open, the students streaming out in a riotous mass. Charlotte’s phone screen showed seventeen texts and eleven missed calls, mostly from her mom. Her phone must have been buzzing unheard in her coat pocket. She was about to tap the screen to return the calls when someone crashed into her, knocking the phone from her hand.
Charlotte reeled into the banister, catching herself before she tumbled the rest of the way down the stairs. Her phone wasn’t so lucky. It bounced down five steps and landed with a crunch at the bottom. The shattered screen lit up as another call started to come through. Charlotte reached desperately, still too far away. Then a boot landed on the screen. Another. Another. Each crunch felt like a blow to her kidneys.
By the time Charlotte reached the bottom of the stairs, the phone was in pieces, its light silenced forever. She couldn’t even bend down to pick up the fragments, or she’d be crushed. She had no choice but to let the flood carry her down the hallway and out the front doors to the quad.
Cold air blasted her cheeks, helping to clear her head. She pulled away from the mad throng, tramping into the deep snow to get some space, and paused to catch her breath. To think.
She was thousands of miles from her mom, the world was ending, and her phone had just been pulverized.
The late-afternoon sun glistened on the white-dusted campus. Students ran in every direction or shambled along, staring at nothing. Some had dark stains on their pants. Others banded together, linking arms as if preparing to hold a line against invisible enemies. They needed each other, in these first moments after all safety and certainty had been blown to bits.
Charlotte searched for familiar faces, hoping to borrow someone’s phone. She couldn’t tell if Aisling and Safwan had made it out of the science building. Thankfully, she knew her mom’s number by heart.
A flicker of red hair, possibly Aisling’s, caught Charlotte’s eye. She pulled her coat tighter and started toward her friend.
Abruptly, a grumbling roar sounded over the cacophony—engines. Charlotte looked up, expecting to see fighter jets streaking overhead. The sky was clear and lovely, powder blue above the snowy rooftops. Not a comet or jet was in sight.
The roar was coming from behind her. She turned as two black SUVs drove directly onto the quad. Students shouted and dove out of the way as the heavy-duty vehicles muscled up a pedestrian path, ice crunching under their tires.
The rules don’t matter anymore. The world is ending, and no one cares about traffic laws or public safety or—
The SUVs skidded to a halt, throwing ice and powdery snow not ten feet away from her. The passenger door of the second vehicle opened, and a man in a gray overcoat got out. Charlotte’s mouth fell open. She knew him.
The man marched toward her, his face a brutalist sculpture of severe lines and stark eyebrows. Kazimir Orlov was her grandfather’s chauffeur, a man who had frightened her with his silent, emotionless ways on the rare visits her mom had allowed to Grandpa Hartland’s Connecticut mansion.
Sensing this was not a person to mess with, the distressed students skirted around him as they continued their aimless flight, still trying to outrun the apocalypse.
Kazimir’s steps were anything but aimless. He walked with the grim purpose only age and absolute self-confidence could produce. Still, it wasn’t until he stopped in front of Charlotte that it clicked: he had come for her.
“Get in the car, please, Miss Hartland.”
“Where are we going?”
“Your questions will be answered later.” Kazimir dropped a heavy hand on her shoulder and steered her toward the SUVs. “I already retrieved your belongings from your dormitory.”
“You had no classes scheduled,” he said. “I expected to find you there as well.”
“Wait.” Charlotte tried to stop, but Kazimir’s momentum was inexorable. “First can you tell me—”
“We should have left the campus before the news broke, Miss Hartland. We cannot delay.”
Charlotte couldn’t argue with his implacable authority. She crossed the trampled, snowy quad, leaving behind the panicked students, and climbed into the black SUV. The door slammed shut, sealing her off from the chaotic new world.