There once was a lonely planet lost out between the galaxies. So far was the planet from everything else that no stars shone at night, and only those with the sharpest of eyes could pick out a couple of faint smudges of sky where the blackness was less black than the rest of the sky: those were the nearest galaxies, uncountable billions of miles away.
The planet revolved around a dim orange star, there were no other planets, it had no moon, its loneliness was astronomically perfect.
On that planet was life. It was a dim kind of life in the eternal twilight of the faint orange star. There were pallid grey fishes in the quiet sea. There were plants whose leaves were the colour of rust mixed with blood. There were birds with huge eyes and secretive wings, there were animals in the undergrowth, and there were people, of a kind.
But the star was old and it was already dying. (It was not like this Sun, that will flay us forever, bringing forth age after ages of pain.) The star was old and its life was ending, and when the first people looked up to its light, that light was already fading. As it faded, so did they: their numbers diminished; the race grew old and gentle before its time.
In the twilight of the last days there was only one left on the lonely planet. His life was long, as were the lives of his kind, and he lived in the ruins in the midst of the desert. The animals were dying, his people were gone, and only a few of the hardiest plants still crawled from the ground to give him his food. But they were enough and he never went hungry.
He planted a threadbare garden where he could sit and watch the dying sun set. Sometimes he read, sometimes he did nothing, and sometimes he went for walks. The loneliness did not trouble him, the meaninglessness of his life did not trouble him. He carried with him the knowledge of ten thousand years of a race that had known it was dying. The final tears of rage and sorrow had been shed by the parents of his grandparent's parents. He lived his days like a part of the land. A mountain does not cry because it will one day be sand at the bottom of the sea.
One day as he was walking he came across a tree, growing lonely in the wasteland. In all of his life, which had been long until then and would be longer still yet, he had never seen a tree, except in pictures in the ancient books. Some seed had survived through the centuries and grown. There was no explanation, there was only the tree. Its colours burned his eyes. Its beauty stirred his mind.
That night he slept restlessly, for the first time in his life. The next day he went back to look at the tree. He spent most of the day there, and the next day, and the next. There had been greater trees, but he had never seen them. He knew only this one, and he lost his thoughts in the web of its branches. A single dry blossom waited for a long-extinct insect to bring life to its seeds. It would wait forever.
He made a bench to rest his feet as he looked at his tree. On dry days he watered it, and every day he came there to burn his eyes and stir his mind with its colours and its form. Under his care, it even grew.
One day on the way to tend his tree he noticed a spot of colour out of the corner of his eye. He went closer and saw that it was a flower. Although his tree had grown, its blossom had faded. This flower was new. It seemed ten times brighter and more beautiful than his tree had ever been. He spent the next few days gazing at it in disbelief.
Then it started to fade. He watered it, he sheltered it, he even breathed on it and spoke to it, but soon it was no more than a tattered grey memory. It could not wait; it died unfulfilled. He mourned it for a while, then remembered his tree, which he had cared for for so long, and which had never let him down. Its beauty seemed deeper to him now than the passing splendour of the dead flower. A beauty less bright, but steadier and subtler, which had become a part of his life.
He went back to his tree but it was dead. Its roots had dried while he watered the flower.
He never went back to his garden, but walked each day for the rest of his life. His nights were unquiet, and he cried for his solitude, for the end of his world, and for the death that would come too late.