The end of <3

“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.”
~ Carl Sagan

:) looked herself up and down in the mirror and sighed – this was her normal look and by far her most comfortable one, but she worried it made her look boring. For the last hour, she’d tried a bunch of different styles and narrowed her options down to two: :-) or :]. Neither felt right, but as the clock ticked over to 6pm, she knew her time had run out. Any second now, :D would arrive and the two would go on what she hoped would be a very exciting first date.

Their last few weeks together – chit chatting on Tinder – had been amazing. And now, finally, they were going to meet face to face. :) didn’t want to jinx it, but she had a great feeling about this one. Could this really be it? At last… true <3?

The doorbell rang and :) panicked. She quickly tried on :] again, cursed and swapped back to her normal look. “Screw it!” she said to herself, while applying a line of red lipstick. “If that big mouth doesn’t like me for who I really am, then this can’t possibly be true <3!” She took a deep breath to calm her nerves and went to open the front door.

“Hello!” :D blurted out awkwardly.
“Hello to you too,” :) replied. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting like that – I just had to finish getting ready.”
“Well, you look absolutely, absolutely, absolutely stunning!”
:) couldn’t help it but blush. She’d already learned from their messaging that :D could be very expressive, but she liked this about him. Her ex, :-&, had been the overly quiet type and it had driven her crazy.
“Why thank you,” she replied. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you! Say, shall we grab that bite to eat?”
“Absolutely! That sounds amazing! Great to meet you too!” :D replied.

:D led them to his car – a brand new 4WD – and the two climbed inside. As :) buckled her seat belt, :D switched on a small LCD screen that displayed a rear view camera, before pressing a button that started the engine. As :D started driving, he looked over at his date.
“Impressive, ain’t it?
“My ride!”
“What… oh sure, yes, it’s certainly something. I drive a Prius myself. But yes, this looks… expensive.”
“Oh yeah, it wasn’t cheap!,” :D replied. “But I got a great deal on finance! Way beyond my budget, but like I always say – you can’t put a price on quality of life!”

:) nodded. Time for a topic change, she thought to herself.
“So, what’s the plan for dinner?” she asked.
“Oh, the big secret!” :D replied. For the last couple of days, he’d been constantly messaging about the top secret exciting destination he’d chosen for their date. “Have you ever been to Helvetica?”
“No, I can’t say I have,” :) replied. “Is that a new restaurant?”
“Yes, it is! It’s a place that opened up on the south side of town. They serve the best calamari in the whole city! You’re gonna absolutely love it!”
“That sounds perfect!”

The two made small talk as they drove to Helvetica, but awkward silences kept filling the car. :) asked :D about his job – both worked as emoticons on the internet – and he told her how his hours had been cut drastically in recent years, as people used him less and less.
“It’s a damn shame!” he said. “I used to get so much work! I was rolling in it! But it’s nice to have so much free time nowadays. It’s allowed me to follow my true passion in life.”
“Oh what’s that?” :) asked.
“Hunting. I live for it.”
“There’s nothing quite so beautiful as venturing into the wilderness and embarking on that chase! Last Winter, I even shot a wild ¶. I’d never seen one before! I got it made into a trophy and now it sits above my fireplace. I’d love to show it to you sometime…”

:) sat there in shock. The sport of hunting made her sick and ¶s were bordering on extinction. She’d once volunteered with an organisation that devoted itself to their preservation. She felt the urge to protest and argue but decided against it, instead turning on the radio – a news bulletin had just begun.

Our top story today: An insider at Facebook, who declined to be named, told 2EB Radio that big changes were being planned for the site’s messenger app. He refused to disclose what, but warned that they were the biggest yet and could take place any day—

:) turned the radio off.
“It’s such nonsense!” she said, angrily.
“What is?” :D asked.
“This social media issue. It’s just outright fear mongering. If I hear the ={) make one more speech about the threat of Facebook or Twitter, I think I’ll explode!”
“Sorry, what’s this social media issue?”
“Huh? You mean you don’t know about it? It’s been in the news for years.”
“I don’t bother with the news,” :D said. “I find it boring. Oh look! We’re here!”

:) was relieved. The car ride was over. :D found a parking spot, but struggled for a while to park the car, despite the many technologies at his disposal. Finally, he pulled it off and then the two climbed out. :D walked them for a block before coming to a stop.

“Ta da!” he said and pointed to the restaurant in front of them. “Helvetica! What do ya think?”

:) sighed. Helvetica was a fast food joint. The place was derelict and she saw the “Under New Management” sign on the front door – not quite a newly opened restaurant. All across its windows were images of greasy deathtraps with discounts attached to them. :) looked inside and she saw how busy the place was.

“This looks… uhm… fun,” she said.

:D led them inside and then to one of the restaurant’s only empty tables, which was still covered in trash from the last customer. :D suggested they wait for it to be cleaned and :) stood, looking around the restaurant at the many different faces. She found herself surprised by some of the rarer emoticons that ate here:  >:[, :-c, :っ, :< :‑[, :‑X, |;‑), :‑J, :-)).

A moment later, :( appeared and cleaned the table. “Helvetica welcomes you to a night of deliciousness and discounts,” he mumbled reluctantly and walked off. As the two took their seats, :) found herself looking up at one of the four TV screens that adorned the restaurant’s walls. It was the only one that displayed a news bulletin and not the same match of sports.

“So, what did you think of my 4WD?” :D asked, trying to get her attention.
“Oh,” :) replied. “Yes. It was fine. Uhm, so… the calamari is really good you say?”

:D nodded enthusiastically and began to fumble around in his pockets for something — loose change.

“Hang on a sec. I’ll go order us some. My shout!”

:D leapt up and and then proceeded to wait in a long queue. As she waited, :) watched the news on the TV screen. The sound was turned down but subtitles had been turned on at the bottom of the screen. The current story was headlined “How far would you go for love?” and told of how a local couple remortgaged their home in order to pay an expensive vet bill for their sick =^_^=. :) sighed and looked away from the TV and at this moment, :D returned.

“Here you go,” he said, dumping a box of calamari rings in front of her. “Best friggin’ calamari ever!”
“Thank you. You sure you don’t want any money for this?”
:D thought about it for a moment.
“Nah. My shout! Seriously!”

The two of them started eating and neither said a word – :D was completely absorbed by his food and :) found the grease too overpowering and so only ate one or two rings. In her mind, she was already busy planning her escape. It would be easy to hail a cab on the street, she thought, but from here to home would be very expensive – the drive had been such a long one, or at least it had felt like an eternity. But then – who had said it? – you can’t put a price on quality of life!

“So,” :D spoke while chewing, to the point that he was barely understandable.
“Tsweell mee abousht thris srocial thwing?”
“The social media issue?”

:) sighed. Escape would come soon, she told herself.

“Well, where do I begin?” she started. “Let’s see… the issue has been around for years now and it ultimately stems from the internet, our lifeblood. Ever since sites like Facebook and Twitter took off, the government has been scaring us daily by saying that social media is unpredictable and that at any time, they might introduce changes that could render us obsolete.”

:D swallowed his mouthful, nodded – he was listening – and he grabbed another handful of rings.

“And sure, yes, these sites – they’ve got the ability. Facebook alone is now in charge of so much of the world’s digital communication. If they make big changes to chat, the other sites and apps will be very quick to follow suit. But it’s total lunacy, if you ask me. Think about it: emoticons date back to nearly the beginning of the internet itself. We’re virtually a part of language now. I’d say we’re sacred.”

“Are you going to finish those?” :D said, eyeing her leftover calamari.

“No. They’re all yours,” :) replied and decided that now was as good a time as any to escape. “Say, I’m just going to duck out front and make quick a phone call.”

:D’s face suddenly became overwhelmed by terror.

“Oh, uhm – I’m sorry,” she said. “I will be back. Don’t worry.”

:D shook his head and slowly raised his hand. He pointed at the TV screen on the wall.

She looked up and saw what he saw. The ={) was about to give an Oval Office address. The entire restaurant went silent, as everyone realised what was going on and people shushed one another to pay attention.

:( turned up the sound.

“Tonight, my fellow emoticons,” the ={) said, beginning his address, “I speak to you with a heavy heart. After years of uncertainty, our darkest fears have been realised. Mere moments ago, the social media giant Facebook executed two devastating changes to its messenger platform that went beyond anything that we imagined.”

:) stared at the screen in shock and looked around at the restaurant. The entire place was silent, apart from the occasional whimper.

The ={( continued: “Our government tried tirelessly to prevent this from taking place, but unfortunately, I must concede – we failed. Tonight, Facebook introduced into its messenger platform two features which are designed to replace us: Stickers and GIFS.”

:) watched as emoticons all around her started crying, screaming and panicking. Many tried to run, but they had nowhere to go.

“It is with immense sadness,” the ='{( said finally, “that I must declare that this is the end. These changes doom our kind to virtual nothingness.”

Suddenly, emoticons across the restaurant began to vanish.


:) looked over and watched as :D quickly grabbed his car keys and stood up from the table.

“Is there anything we can do? Somewhere to hide?” he pleaded.

“I don’t think so,” :) replied.


The car keys chimed as they landed on the floor.





Soon, every emoticon in the restaurant had vanished and :) was left all alone. She glanced up at the TV screen and saw that the president had disappeared now as well – in his place was a GIF of a goat licking the screen.


Seconds later, :’) vanished too.

The End

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