~ a short story
The last man opened his weary lids and light filtered to his latest reality. His head hurt from the wood on the park bench which just served as his pillow for the night. He faced directly up into the sky above as his horizontal, slowly jostling form wrestled with soreness. The sun peaked through the branches of a tree to grace him.
The first conscious thought he births: Not every day the first thing you see is high noon.
In fact, it was the first such instance in the man’s life. It was an oddly curious realization. But he couldn’t dwell on it.
He sat up, too quickly. Sight vanquished from him as the blood in his brain reoriented itself. Unfocused and staring blankly into the scene before him, this man tried to think of why. Why is he here?
Spending the night on the park bench, I am better than this. What was I doing last night?
Thinking himself perhaps rip roaring drunk just hours previous, he is surprised to find his head doesn’t hurt. Other than the grogginess from new consciousness, and the bright midday sun booming directly onto his scalp, he feels quite good.
Eyes shut, he focuses on remembering. But he can’t. There is just nothing there. There’s so much empty space in his conscious mind regarding this specific attempt at memory, it is actually refreshing. Like reaching into a bag expecting something physical and heavy and realizing there’s nothing. A shock at first, but then you realize you don’t have to expend any energy bringing the thing forth and dealing with it.
The man stood, coming to terms with a clean and simple break from the previous night. No tittering half-remembered embarrassment or pulse-pounding headache from poison which had strained the moments from his brain. Just a bit of nothing. Feeling good about it, he started to walk away from his makeshift bed towards his day, whatever it might be. But as he looked around, finally registering the currency of the moment he was in, he is forced to grip with something else, something he instantly loses himself inside of. A confused but genuine dread washed over him, endured with every subsequent sight accumulated.
All around him is devastation. Torrid flames growing higher, buildings crumbling and felled, debris enveloping the grass and the concrete alike. No bodies, nobody else is around; but somehow he knew.
Only he now existed.
Conscious of the heat, the acrid scents, the silence, the man sucked all of it in. Up above he glared with hand shading his precious eyes, perhaps instinctively. There, the spiteful glow of the midday star’s obscuring dimension was revealed: a pulsing sky of brightly crimson oblivion.
…Either the world went to hell or hell delivered itself directly to us overnight.
Staggering as he walked, the man scanned the impossible red sky. Through a cloud cover laced with deep gashes, shredded like cooked meat, the sky streaked tears revealing an even darker brood of blood throughout the wellsprings of a sky he could no longer comfort himself within. It was like nothing from his darkest nightmares.
The sky is filled with blood, the world is dead and so is everyone else except for me.
Feeling faint, a small sound sourced from just ahead of him in the park. Within the brush of the sidewalk nearest to the street where no cars passed any longer, there was a whimper.
A dog scampered out, with reservations. The beast stopped and so did he.
The man met the dog’s eyes, expressionlessly. Each animal’s head cocked to the same side, curious. A medium dog as far as size, any rational fear of another unknown creature did not touch down upon him. He just stood there immobilized. The dog did the same.
For many moments, the dog was almost entirely motionless, its eyes fixed on the man. After such measures are taken, the dog moved closer, sniffing, scanning the surroundings for others and finding none. Before his legs, the dog plopped, looking up and showing teeth. Not baring them, just breathing with a smile. The familiar dog smile.
The man watched the dog breathe and smile, thinking of what to do, what he might should say. He stands in this state longer than he could’ve ever anticipated. He wonders if the dog is going through a similar transformation.
Look around, it must be.
At the totality of the burning scape about them, unknown tensions released within him. Bending down to be face to face with the creature, he stared hard into its eyes once more, thinking to himself about what this could all mean. Two deep wells of wisdom, the man marked the world’s reflection in the dog’s eyes. Memories returned.
~ Last night he had been taking a walk, cruising in the brisk night, why? He was trying to cool off mentally, de-stressing for some reason. He had an argument with Lyr, what was it about? Things weren’t gonna be the same, she was throwing it all away. Why had he chosen that evening to let loose on her? The deadline. He wasn’t going to make it, it was eating him up. The work never got done but he knew deep down he had chosen the wrong path and so he didn’t care if the work was done, even if it still had to be done. He was also late to work again that morning, he didn’t have time to buy groceries because he had been working late, again. Waking up that early put him in a bad mood anyway. Why did he feel so alone? Why couldn’t he shake the apathy. He wasn’t a morning person. Four straight weeks now, sleep deprivation always took its toll. He always promised he would make it up on the weekend. He always promised he would pursue his passion on the weekend, he would get some chapters down. He would get back in shape too. Failing himself, repeatedly, without fail. Is that all he could execute? When was he going to start being different? Why ~
The man snapped back to reality as the ground rumbled. He was patting the dog’s head. Leaves from the tree overhead fell onto his jacket. A distant building fell. The dog whipped its head around frantically, whimpering, trying to understand. The man gripped her more tightly. He patted and whispered calming words. He watched the horizon for a source, any potential danger approaching. More useless memories arrived. This time, the man cast them away in disgust.
This is really what it had all amounted to? This is what I was raging against? What does it mean? What did it mean? This is what it was always going to lead to. Crouching here in the park with a mutt in the midst of fresh apocalypse. What were my dreams but dreams. Now I am awakened, and it is hell. My hell. Just me and the mutt.
The man covered his face; a smile beckoned underneath his hands. The shaking earth ended. The dog checked on him, confused. The man stepped away from the dog, suddenly shaking. With laughter.
At first a chuckle, then escalation. Something closer to a scream emerged from between his lips. Shaking his head in his hands, hysterically, the sounds resounds throughout the wooded passages of the small park. The dog stood up and barked with purpose, the fur along its back arching in distress. The dog staggered back as the volume rose, tail between its legs, snarling in fear.
On his back, the man lay rolling to and fro, on the hot concrete, still covering his face, still howling. His hands move to cover his mouth, muffling it, before releasing the scream again. Clawing at his hair, slapping his face, the dog barks at the man, louder and louder.
Together, the sound of their cries are deafening. The man keeps screaming; the dog keeps barking. A plane descended out of the sky in the distance. Another building fell to flames.
In the onset of this madness, the man feels the silence of the absences violently and continues to skirmish with the earth and the air in his midst, flailing and yelling until he doesn’t have anything left to say.
After a blink of quiet, the man flipped himself over. On all fours, he faced up with the calming dog. He barked at her. Like a wolf, he followed that with a howl. Poor in tenor but with a severe, conscious determination behind it, he let it fly from out of his lips. After not too long, the dog joined in. Man and dog both howl with forlorn and deathly intention into the bleeding sky.
Out of breath, the man gathered himself, before rushing up to the dog to grab its face with gentle ferocity. His own countenance drawn in close to stare deeply into the dog’s eyes once more, he supports the beast’s head behind its big, floppy ears. The dog’s eyes widen, she sits up straight. They lock in, unblinking.
For one minute, the pair go into the dark wells of their counterpart. The man crouches, with khaki knees fraying. The dog sits at attention, with the obedience of a training never to be forgot.
The man continues to stare into the dog’s eyes until he sees something.
“C’mon! Let’s go!” he shouted suddenly into the dog’s face, finally taking a breath. Her tail begins to wag uncontrollably and he pats her head and grins wider than he ever has.
The man stands with resolution and begins to walk another way.
The dog joins him expeditiously, stepping by his side into the new year’s wilderness. ~