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 and he has the first conscious thought: 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 oddly curious. But he couldn’t dwell on it.
He sat up, too quickly, and loses his sight as the blood in his brain reoriented itself. Unfocused and staring blankly into the scene before him, this man tries to think of why he is 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 realize his head doesn’t actually hurt at all. Other than the grogginess from new consciousness, and the bright midday sun booming onto his head, he feels quite good.
He closes his eyes to focus 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 in fact nothing within. 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 stands, coming to terms instantly 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 starts to walk away from his makeshift bed towards his day, whatever it might be. But as he looks around, finally registering the currency of the moment, he grips with something else, something he instantly loses himself inside of. He forgets where he is, and endures a confused but genuine dread wash over him.
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. He becomes suddenly conscious of the heat, the acrid scents, the silence. He looks up once more, perhaps instinctively, and realizes what exactly the spiteful glow of the midday star had obscured: a pulsing sky of brightly crimson oblivion. Either the world went to hell or hell delivered itself directly to us over night.
Staggering as he walked, he continues to stare up into the impossible red sky. There was a cloud cover but the space between them is a deep crimson, with streaks like tears revealing an even darker, bloodish color within 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, he now heard a small sound sourcing from just ahead, within the brush of the sidewalk nearest to the street where no cars passed.
A dog scampers out, with reservations. It stops and so does he. He meets the dog’s eyes, expressionlessly. Each animal’s head cocks to the same side, unknowingly. It’s not a large dog, but he doesn’t currently have the wherewithal for rational fears. He just stands immobilized, like the dog does and they stare at each other curiously. For many moments the dog is almost entirely motionless, its eyes fixed on the man. After the measures are taken, the dog moves a bit closer sniffing, scanning the surroundings as it does. It pulls up right before his legs and sits easily, looking up and showing its teeth. Not baring them but opening its mouth for a breath and showing that familiar dog smile. He looks down at it, thinking of thoughts on thoughts. He stands in this state longer than he could’ve ever anticipated. He wonders if the dog is going through a similar transformation.
~ art by Miguel Macaya
Look around, it must be.
The man feels some unknown tension release within him for a moment and he bends down to be face to face with the creature. He stares into its eyes once more, thinking to himself about what this could mean. Two deep wells of wisdom, he tries to make out the reflections in the dog’s eyes, but while he does some of his memory returns. ~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 Ly, what was it about? Things weren’t gonna be the same, he was throwing it all away. Why had he chosen that evening to let loose on him? 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, 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. Why was he 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 ask her out? Why~
The man snapped back to reality as the world rumbled around him, leaves from the tree overhead fall onto his jacket. A distant building falls. The dog whipped its head around frantically, trying to understand. The man stared out into the landscape at nothing in particular, taking in more useless memories and then casting 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.
Bringing his hands to his head, the man covers his face and starts to smile underneath them. The dog looks up at him, confused. He steps back and begins to shake, with laughter. It starts as a chuckle and escalates into something closer to a scream. He shakes his head in his hands, hysterically, it resounds throughout the wooded passages of the small park. The dog stands and barks, the fur along its back arching into distressing heights. It staggers back facing the man, tail between its legs, snarling in fear. The man now lies on his back and rolls to and fro on the ground, still covering his face, still howling. He tries to cover his mouth but constantly moves his hands, clawing at his hair, slapping his face. The sound of his cries are deafening and the dog keeps barking. A plane falls out of the sky in the distance. Another building falls in flames. In his 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.
The man flips over and gets on all fours. Shaking his head, he opens his eyes to the dog and gets its attention quickly by barking. He starts to howl like a wolf, poorly but with severe, conscious determination. He keeps doing it until the dog joins in. They both howl with forlorn and deathly intention into the bleeding sky. He gathers himself, rushing up to the dog and grabs its face. He brings his own countenance to stare deeply into the dog’s eyes once more, while he tightly grips its face around the ears. The dog’s eyes widen and it sits up straight. He keeps staring. The man gazes, unblinking, for minutes into the dark wells. The dog sits at attention, with the obedience of a training it cannot forget.
He continues to stare into the dog’s eyes until he sees something.
“C’mon! Let’s go!” he shouts suddenly into the dog’s face, finally taking a breath. Its tail begins to wag uncontrollably and he pats its 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. ~