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  1. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Short Story Contest (53): Theme - The Last Human - Submission & Details Thread

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, Sep 28, 2009.

    Short Story Contest 53
    Submissions & Details Thread
    Theme: The Last Human


    Open to all, newbies and established members alike. Please post your entries as replies to this post. At the deadline I will collate all entries and put them forward for voting in a seperate thread. The winning entry will be stickied until the next competition winner. Sadly, there is no prize on offer except pride.

    Theme: 'The Last Human' (courtesy of member Rod Patrick). Any interpretation valid.

    Suggested Wordlimit: 500 - 3000 words.
    Deadline for entries: October 12th 2009 10.00 am (UK local)


    There is a 10% word-limit leniency at both ends of the scale. Please try to stick within the limit. As below, any piece outside of the suggested limit may not be entered into the voting.

    The next contest will be a HALLOWEEN-themed 'The Monsters Under The Bed' affair (bluebell80) and the contest after that 'The Rebel Fairy' (jonathonhernandez13). You may prepare an entry in advance for these contests if you wish, but do not submit them until instructed to do so.

    There is a maximum of 20 entries to any contest. If there are more than 20 entries to any one contest I will decide which are entered into voting based on adherence to the suggested word limit and relevance to the theme, not on a first-come-first served basis.

    Try to make all your entries complete and have an ending rather than be an extract from a larger one and please try to stick to the topic. Any piece seemingly outside of the topic will be dealt with in a piece by piece manner to decide its legitamacy for the contest.

    Submissions may not have been previously posted on this site, nor may they be posted for review until voting has closed. Only one entry per contest please.

    Please try to refrain from itallicising, bolding, colouring or indenting any text to help avoid disappointment. These stylistics do not reproduce when I copy-paste them into the voting thread. You may use visible noparse BB code to preserve style if you wish.

    Please remember to give your piece a title and give its word count in brackets at the top of your story.

    If there are any questions, please leave me a visitor message or PM me. Please do not clog up this, or any other thread, with your questions.

    Thanks and good luck.
     
  2. pinelopikappa
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    pinelopikappa Senior Member

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    The Last Human (920 words)

    His daydreaming was interrupted by a sweet voice calling a child. He looked up at the crowd of people around him, families and lovers spending their morning in the beauty of the beach. He enjoyed the calm sea under the sun, the human voices merging with the whisper of the water and the cries of the birds. The sand and the rocks reflected the light and sent it straight into his eyes, making him squint at the world. Colors melt into shades of grey. As he got up he felt the salt on his skin and took a deep breath.

    The voice called again, sounding more anxious. He knew by the expression on the woman’s face that in a few moments she would give in to panic. Soon everybody was looking for the missing child around the beach and into the sea itself. It took him a few moments before he joined them, but then he decided to go to the trickiest part of the beach. All around the north side of the bay were small rocky coves. Even an adult was up to the chest in water in order to approach them. If a kid were to be trapped in there… the thought made him focus and his mind cleared.

    He started searching carefully, distancing himself from the sandy beach as we went on. There were places deep up to his shoulders, and others down to his waist. Before he knew it he had reached the other side of the bay where he couldn’t see or hear anyone any more. He kept on going anyway since it wasn’t possible to get out, but the effort of walking in the sea started to take its toll. Suddenly he felt his knees failing him, so he climbed on a rock and rested a while. Great, he thought, now I need saving as well.

    Suddenly he saw the child floating in front of him. He jumped into the sea screaming for help, and caught the little body before it drifted away. She looked asleep, her long hair floating around her face like a little mermaid. He was silent now and his stomach had a sick feeling. He started carrying her back with difficulty, both because of the sea and his sadness. He kept thinking that today was the last her mother would ever be happy. He imagined the inevitable scene that would soon follow. He felt sorry for her, but his deepest grieving was for her family.

    He wished he had never gone swimming that day. His arms were bringing her dead to them, a stranger carrying their girl whose life had ended. A mother deserves more than that. The beautiful summer day made the tragedy even more surreal. Every step brought him closer to what he didn’t want to witness. His mind was racing, trying to find a solution to an impossible problem. It wasn’t his fault but that’s how it felt. He wanted to do something merciful, an act of kindness.

    Gradually he stopped. He couldn’t face what was coming, no way. He was close now, but still unseen. He left her floating on the water, gently pushing her away towards the direction of the beach. Soon someone would spot her. Hiding behind the rocks like a thief, he felt like a good person nonetheless. He had done his duty, just as the sea was doing hers, bringing the girl to her family. Then it occurred to him it was the sea that took the girl from them in the first place. Perhaps the family wasn’t paying enough attention to their daughter and now they had to live with it. Every second he became inexplicably angrier. This wasn’t his business and he wanted no part of it. He just happened to be there, he didn’t want any involvement, he was like the natural elements, neutral…

    All of a sudden there was screaming and yelling. He finally turned around the rocks only to see the girl in the arms of someone bringing her to the beach. She was placed on the sand surrounded by people, when a man shouted that she was alive. A doctor was looking after her, the parents were in tears grateful and relieved.

    He didn’t go anywhere near the crowd. He went the other way, as everybody else was running towards the girl. She was alive and he had thrown her back into danger. He had wanted to do something merciful; instead he ended up acting like an animal. He started walking faster as he realized he had simply avoided responsibility. He wasn’t part of the elements; he had a choice because he was human. He was in fact the last human she could depend on at that crucial moment, being unconscious and vulnerable. Still, all he did was to betray and abandon her.

    He left the beach as fast as possible, got into his car and drove off. He switched on the radio and a song he loved was playing. After a few minutes he started to calm down. In spite of everything he was the one who found her before she drowned. Plus nobody had seen him, so no harm done either way. He felt good about himself again and started to imagine how he would share his adventure with his friends. No need to tell it exactly as it happened, they wouldn’t understand. After all he had saved a little girl, but planned to be modest about it.

    He never returned to that beach.
     
  3. Nackl of Gilmed
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    Nackl of Gilmed Member

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    Fascination

    Fascination (2122 words)

    Clinton sat in his quarters and watched the thing slither. He knew it was feeding on him; knew it owed its existence to his flesh and blood and warmth. He didn’t mind. A quick trip to the medical lab and all would be right again. In the meantime... it was fascinating.
    Clinton knew the history; biology wasn’t his field, but the germs were the reason everybody was here. And the stories of the microscopic life-forms that had chased humanity off this otherwise pointless rock two hundred years ago were now a matter of public record.
    The thing writhed constantly, yearning for the moment it would be strong enough to break free of his body and make its own way. Already eyes were becoming visible, the scaly skin more defined from the fleshy pulp it had been.
    Clinton poked it again. He couldn’t help it. It snapped at his finger, and he quickly withdrew. He wondered if it knew that a bite would spread the infection to his other arm, wondered if it would avoid creating a competitor if it could.
    The thing was actually composed of billions of independent virus particles. When they came into contact with a food source – human cells, to name one example – they fed, reproduced, and formed together into a multi-cellular organism. It was the only species in recorded history that began life as a virus, grew into a parasite, and finally ended up as a predator.
    It had taken over as the dominant life form on this distant planet, spreading across the continents and over the mountains. Even the human colonists had fled from its aggression, containment suits and antiseptic washes considered insufficient protection against this intruder.
    “Whoa… what is that?”
    Clinton shot a look upward. Damn; his roommate, Josh, returned from the geological survey.
    “I found it after the daily topside session,” he lied, forcing a grimace. “Guess my suit wasn’t tight.”
    “Damn right it wasn’t. You’d better get that burned out.” Josh’s genius reply.
    “Yeah, I was heading there now.”
    Clinton slipped into a containment suit – protocol in case of exposure – and headed out into the hallways of the massive city-ship. He didn’t have to go far, as there was one medical lab and one technician per fifty crew quarters.
    Time to get you burned out, little buddy, he thought with a smile. In the old days, the saying would have been “checked out.” Because in the old days, only a doctor would have been qualified to deal with something so serious. Today, of course, that was all different. With the development of the Omni-Screener, virtually every harmful foreign invader could be identified and burned out of the body by any minimally-trained tech head. There were only about twenty medical doctors on the whole ship, among a population of about ten thousand. Technician Zeke would flash-fry the little bastard out of his arm with no problem.

    “What the hell is this?” Technician Zeke was not impressed.
    “Must’ve been a rip in my suit for this morning’s topside session,” Clinton mumbled, trying to shrug off the assault. Zeke’s gaze didn’t drop.
    “This is at least a three-day growth. Are you trying to tell me you didn’t notice this till now?”
    “Look, I don’t know, Doc,” Clinton said, putting a little more emphasis on the title than he needed to. “How about you just fry the sucker before it eats us both?”
    “Fine. Get in the cube.”
    The Omni-Screener was within a cube of tinted glass in the middle of the lab. Rays of light from the emitter in the center of the roof of the cube bathed the entire inside of the cube in radiation. Any organic cell that was not Clinton, barring the probiotic bacteria nestling in his gut, would be instantly vapourised. It was the ultimate cure-all. It had waylaid the endless arms race between constantly-evolving viruses and the scientists who created better and better immunizations.
    Clinton stood directly under the emitter and looked out at Technician Zeke. Through the protective tinting in the glass walls, it was like he was in a submarine, looking out at a yellow-and-black sea. Zeke did some fiddling with the controls, and without turning around, asked if Clinton was ready.
    Clinton raised his arm for one last look. A fleshy pod of a head, gnashing lipless jaws that were capped with single jagged plates rather than true teeth. A thin stalk for a body, merging messily with the volcanic eruption that had been his flesh. Tiny, beady, little yellow eyes stared into Clinton’s own.
    The great plagues of old Earth history, Clinton thought. Smallpox, HIV, the Black Death. If someone had to visualize that ravenous hunger, put a face on the hateful murderous nature of the virus, and they came up with this, no one would say they’d done a bad job.
    Clinton kept looking into those eyes as they filled with light and turned to dust before him.

    Clinton knew he would have to be careful. If it appeared that he had been infected too regularly, if it appeared he wasn’t following safety protocol, he could be put under probation, even kicked off the research team altogether and confined to quarters. Three months, he had decided after leaving the lab. That’s got to be long enough. He shouldn’t have let it grow so much – Zeke was already suspicious. All the same, he had needed to let it grow.
    Clinton wasn’t quite sure what was so attractive about it. All he knew was that letting the thing grow, watching it, touching it, gave him a vicarious little thrill that was equal parts exciting and repellant. He thought anyone who had ever relished the experience of ripping off a chunk of blistered dead skin might understand what he felt.
    And like those people, he couldn’t wait for the next batch to grow. It was only his fear of probation that kept him from exposing himself every time he went topside. Three months, he repeated to himself over and over within his space suit as he and the other research students scrambled about on the blasted rock of the semi-arid planet. Three months, he thought as the hole in his arm left by the virus gradually healed. Three months.
    And then came the day. Three endless months of waiting. Four days looking for the right moment. And then, with Clinton’s group spread out across the landscape cataloguing plant life, a snake wandered into view.
    It wasn’t really a snake. Most of the forms the virus had been known to grow into were basically serpentine in shape, but this one, common to the cliff sides the research group was traipsing all over, was particularly low-slung, gliding along the ground on short stubby clawed legs. Clinton wondered about the best way to infect himself as the snake, rock-still, stared at him from the ground. A bite would be too obvious, they’d make sure he went to the lab for a burn. Maybe if he could collect a sample and smuggle it in…
    “Oh, jeez! Professor, Clinton’s got a live one!” A shout from behind. Clinton jerked in shock, and the snake reacted in kind. Rearing up on its hind legs, it growled and bared its teeth. Clinton quite suddenly remembered how dangerous the adult form of the virus could be.
    It struck at him, lightning quick. At the same moment came the deep bass thump of a sonic round being fired past Clinton’s head. Dark red blood splattered across his visor and the snake crumpled to the ground, its face shattered by the blast.
    “Any penetration of your suit?” The crisp, economical tones of Clinton’s research professor. “No sir,” he replied, turning around. “I think I’m tight.”
    The professor allowed a momentary glance at his suit before losing interest. “Yes, you seem fine. Don’t check in for a burn unless symptoms present themselves, no need to waste our limited resources.”
    He wasn’t overly concerned. Why should he be? Why should anyone? The institutional germaphobia of the past was more or less extinct now. As long as an Omni-Screener was handy, no one need fear infection. If there was no risk, there was no harm in ignoring it. Or, Clinton thought with barely-concealed glee, cultivating it.
    He returned to his work, the appearance of the model student. Taking a twig from an utterly uninteresting scrub of a bush, he dipped a leaf in the blood that still streaked his helmet and stored it in his specimen canister. The canisters weren’t submitted to the Screener; if a student had actually succeeded in finding a new species, it wouldn’t be in the database of permitted life forms and would be burned along with anything else. Clinton’s sample would be safe – in a manner of speaking.

    Clinton sat in his quarters, alone with a drop of cold blood sitting on a leaf. The snake had been killed, but the virus should be alive in the blood, and all it took was a tiny infection to grow into a new organism.
    In a brief moment of insanity, Clinton wondered what would happen if he ate it. He imagined a million tiny living particles spreading throughout his entire body. He imagined them all growing, all consuming, all destroying him at once, and was a little disturbed to discover that he found the idea somehow erotic.
    Pushing the thought away, Clinton moved to dab the blood on his arm.
    Wait, wait. He thought. Can’t give Zeke any more reason to be suspicious. If he looks up the encounter he’ll know it shouldn’t be on my arm. An infection would have to have hit my face, maybe my neck. He elected his chest instead, about halfway between the collarbone and his left nipple. His neck seemed a little too vital.
    He lay on his bunk. His skin seemed to already be tingling, but it was probably just the dampness of the blood. It didn’t coagulate like human blood; it stayed runny for days, improving the chance of infecting new hosts.
    Such a clever thing you are, he thought with approval. You won the arms race on your planet. I guess ours just went on a little longer, pushed us just that little bit ahead of you.
    He tried to sleep, and found that he could not.

    Twenty four hours later Clinton reported to the medical lab. Technician Zeke was once again on duty, and Technician Zeke was once again unimpressed.
    “Well, you managed to catch this one a little earlier, it seems,” he commented, disdain clear on his face. “But I must wonder once again how you managed to go an entire day without noticing what should have been as plain as the nose on your face.”
    Clinton, one hand pulling down the collar of his shirt, shrugged. “Like my professor said, the Screener uses up resources. At first it was just a bump. I didn’t want to report for a burn till he sprouted, to make sure.”
    Zeke stared at him skeptically for a moment, then shrugged. “All right. Get in the cube.”
    Clinton stood once again in the centre of the cube. He took his shirt off and held it beside him; he wanted a clear view. The thing looked up at him, like the last one had. This one was younger, however; the eyes were milky white, not yet developed.
    Zeke raised his hand, indicating he was about to turn on the Screener.
    “So long, buddy," Clinton said. Light flooded the chamber. The thing on his chest did not react.
    It took Clinton a few seconds to register what had just happened. The thing looked up sightlessly, alive and unmarred by the radiation.
    “Uh…” Clinton could not think of anything to say, but Zeke must have caught the alarm in his voice. He wheeled around, looked into the cube, incredulous.
    “Did the emitter go off?” he asked. Clinton nodded, noticing for the first time how the black and yellow filter made Zeke look a little unwell. A little sick.
    “Don’t worry, I’ll dial up the power. This must be a glitch,” he said, turning back to the controls. Clinton did not say anything.
    Again the flash went off, brighter this time. Clinton shut his eyes against the sudden glare. When he opened them again the thing was still there. And as Zeke ran to the emergency phone to summon the doctors, the milky white sheen left the thing’s eyes, and they stared into Clinton’s with their horrid yellow intensity. Clinton once again imagined the millions upon millions of virus particles that were now travelling through his blood. Imagined a million million tiny little parasites eating him alive all at once.
    And Clinton felt a twinge of fear.
     
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  4. Shadow Reeves
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    Shadow Reeves Contributing Member

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    On a plane filled with Motherf**king Snakes.
    731 words

    The radio was my only link to the outside world. It provided vital information as well as long desired company in this dark room. I would spend hours, days, listening to the reports and updates on the status of the world; where It was, and where It was heading.

    It was always referred to as “It”.

    Often I would have conversations with whoever was on the radio who would answer all my questions on the current state of the globe. I would tell Jacob Hensley about all my high school crushes and bad dates, and Elle Lisbon all my fears. Their responses were never satisfactory as these are not the issues dealt with in these times, but their voices soothed my moods.

    As time passed many of the radio people became silent, wandering into a world of a thousand whispers, none of which I could understand. One by one, the stations went offline as It passed though every city, town, farm and body. At first it was like losing a friend, one who held all your deepest fears and hopes. Maybe I wept - I don’t remember. But as more voices were replaced with the numb static the dark room would become that much gloomier.

    Very soon they will all be gone.

    It struck with warning. Yet true to human history, these warnings were not heeded. It was only after the first death in a country of military significance that the world leaders stopped to reconsider. Soon it was realised that there was nothing they could do. There was no way to fight and nowhere to run. The bureaucrats of the world tried to keep control and were left debating what to do right to the deadline; when Its fangs were inches from their necks. The plebs of every city saw the inadequacies of their leaders and took up arms and overthrew their kings, queens, prime ministers and presidents. Too little; too late.

    Very soon, they were all gone.

    I was not among them, I heard about it on the radio. I was here, hiding in the dark, preparing to ride out the storm that had been brewing for near on five years. And still after two years there was no light at the end of the tunnel. My dwelling was dark, so very dark for so very long that I had forgotten what things look like, the colour of the dirt around me, or the shine of steel but I could tell every object with a brush of my fingers across their surface.

    There are few things to do for amusement in such a situation. For a long time I collected stones from the walls, smooth little pebbles and sharp gravel that would often cut me. I would rearrange them, creating tangible images of the past; boats, cars, houses, and this would keep my mind trapped in the past with my friends and family for what seemed an age. Mostly I slept and wrote but always with the radio on. I brought a writing book with me to my self-prepared prison. I have written over those ninety-six pages a hundred times or more with my thoughts, feelings, abstract stories and movie scripts from the past, and some brand new.

    It occurred to me one day that my pen may be out of ink. So much did the futility of my efforts dwell on my mind that I threw my pen away. After some time I found another in the dirt and continued writing. Sometimes I thought my book was more important than my radio, but then I would hear the voice and be lulled into a state that can only be described as peace.

    I counted the cans of food I had left this morning; I know it’s morning because the radio tells me so. Counting the cans is something I do every morning. thirty-one left

    Very soon it will all be gone.

    One month. One month to go. I decided long ago that I would not die in this hole. I will die outside, among the trees and light, where I can see life. After two years it sounds like a tempting offer. But I had a month before i must make that decision. And if It cannot be cured before then, if the radio doesn’t say it’s safe; very soon I will be gone.
     
  5. Cyrano
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    Cyrano Member

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    All Alone

    Harold swatted the alarm clock. He stretched as he sat up in bed and yanked off his sweaty t-shirt. Rubbing his eyes, he hobbled his way to the shower, maneuvering about the odds and ends that covered the floor. He couldn’t be late anymore. Randy would kill him. He kept it quick, stepping into the cold water, rinsing his greasy hair, scrubbing his pits. He toweled off, shaved, and stepped into his slacks and threw on a cream colored dress shirt. He contemplated brushing his teeth, but decided against it. He made it all the way to the kitchen that morning before remembering that he was all alone.

    Harold poured himself some cereal, all the while listening to the empty noise coming from the radio. He slid on his sneakers and left the apartment, making sure he locked the door behind him. Checking his watch, he hurried down the deserted stairs and on to the street. He still had plenty of time. The office was only a couple blocks down. He relaxed his pace and took in the scenery. The cars, the newspaper booths, they all made him feel so lonely.
    He walked the concrete steps up to the office. He walked past the reception desk, and chose the stairs over the elevator. He made it to level three, then headed directly to his cubicle. He already knew what he had to do. This cooperate branch of Hammett Fabrics and Textiles was transferring its records onto computer. Harold finished typing up the short stack of papers he had left unfinished yesterday. He shredded the copied records, got up, and grabbed a whole new stack from the room-long row of file cabinets left to be transferred. He moved slowly, hoping Randy would look up and notice him, but then he remembered.

    He had been weeks since he realized that he was alone. He was surprised, speechless. Then he became angry, and trashed his apartment, and when that wasn’t enough, he ran down the lonely street, yelling and breaking windows and screaming until his voice was hoarse. Then he cried. He spent all night in bed, crying, begging, cursing. But he had excepted it, now. He was alone, and there was nothing he could do but except it. He kept up his normal life, suppressing these lonely feelings. He had no choice.

    6:00 came fast. Harold had finished an entire cabinet, after working nonstop all day, even through his lunch break. As soon as the clock struck six, Harold stood up, and quickly made his way out, back onto the lonely, unfriendly city streets. The litter, the parked cars, the ever changing streetlights. Harold was enveloped with a feeling of loneliness and regret.

    Harold climbed the deserted apartment stairs, he never liked elevators, and walked back to his room. He unlocked the door, picked up today’s paper, and entered the deserted apartment. He threw some frozen tortilla roles in the microwave and slipped off his shoes. As his meal cooked, he cleaned up the kitchen a bit, moving appliances off the floor and back onto their place on the counter, throwing out broken plate pieces, the residue of the tantrum that he now laughed about. Maybe he would call somebody up later, head down to the bar, and have a few. But then he remembered, he was alone.
     
  6. ManicHedgehog
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    ManicHedgehog Member

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    On the Last Day - 2,608 words

    Henry came to a stop at the end of the gravel road and grimaced. He'd expected something more. It's not as if he was hoping for Monticello on the fringe of this backwater town, but he didn't think the breath of another human being was too much to ask for. Something alive. Or at least a little running water. This shack didn't appear to have either.

    Henry removed the mud-stained black helmet from his head and let the wind cut through the sweat that matted his long brown hair. The house's gnarled aluminum siding groaned where the north facade had been torn out, as if another, angrier house had charged through it. Where the house ended, the Great White began — an unbroken plane of fine, ivory dust with nothing but a blank blue sky overhead. And eventually, before the sky met the horizon, even the blue was swallowed by the white.

    Nothing before, and nothing beyond. This was the last house.

    "Figures," Henry said as he cut the engine to the Honda motorcycle. He tightened the straps of his backback around his shoulders, feeling Snowball squirming inside. Henry unclipped the flap, and Snowball peeked out. The rabbit pinned its white ears against its white back and welcomed the cool, Sunday afternoon breeze with a tic of its nose.

    "Door number three," Henry said. It was hardly worth checking inside, but the last house surely had more to offer than the Great White. He stepped across the bare mound of dirt that was once a front yard and entered the house through the hollow end, his hand positioned above the glock on his waist.

    Henry had never killed anything in his life, and if hard-pressed, he wasn't sure he could even fake it. But the more time he spent exploring the wastes, the more he believed he never would have to. It had been 10 days since the sky opened, and since then, he'd seen 400 miles of north Texas, from one end of the Great White to the other. Hundreds of houses, and not a single living soul.

    This house was no different. It was lifeless and silent, except for the wind that howled within. Not even the bodies remained.

    Henry set down his backpack, and Snowball hopped out onto the sun-splashed linoleum. Henry raided the pantry and found a bag of dog food, which he poured into a bowl for Snowball. The rabbit sniffed at the dry, brown nuggets and twitched his whiskers in disdain before taking a nibble. He'll have to deal with it, Henry thought.

    Henry's initial theory proved to be true. The refrigerator was packed with old food that gave off such an oppressive odor that Henry could hardly look inside. After a fruitless search, he slammed the refrigerator door and checked the cupboards. He evacuated the the cans of soup and vegetables, pasta, peanut butter, ramen, Oreos, spices, flour, sugar and potato chips, but found no liquids — not even a can of pop. He tested the tap, just to be sure. Nothing.

    "No water," Henry muttered, his breath nervous and uneven. He started to wonder just how many more days the two of them could last on what they had. Two weeks, Henry estimated. Maybe more if he ditched Snowball, but that wasn't an option. He'd go without a little water if he could just have someone to talk to.

    Snowball abandoned his bowl and bounded after Henry into the living room. Henry pushed the hair out of his eyes and fished through a dusty cabinet full of vinyl records. He'd rigged a portable turntable to the back of his motorcycle. It wasn't water, and it wasn't too useful while he rode across the countryside, but it made the still nights a little less quiet and lonely.

    This collection, however, looked as promising as the building that housed it.

    "'Abbey Road', again? Really?" Henry said, lifting the LP out of the cabinet. "Is there a single house in this world that doesn't have at least one copy of 'Abbey Road'?"

    An urgent, lilting voice filled the room:

    'Here come old flat-top he come
    Grooving up slowly he got
    Joo-joo eyeball he one
    Holy roller he got
    Hair down to his knee
    Got to be a joker he just do what he please.'

    Henry tilted his head to the side and glanced at Snowball, who was tilted back on his hind legs and peering through the skylight with a red eye. The rabbit's whiskers twitched.

    "Geez, even you?" Henry asked.

    Snowball fell back to all fours. "You said it yourself," the rabbit spoke with only a wrinkle of the nose. "Everyone's heard it."

    Henry slid the record back into the stack, in between the classic rock staples and forgotten one-hit-wonders. "If only people stocked up on water like they do Beatles records."

    "It's a classic," Snowball insisted.

    "I'm not arguing that," Henry said, pulling out a gatefold of 'Sgt. Pepper'. "But would it kill them to get a little Stooges around here? Nothing like a little 'Raw Power' while we watch the world devour itself."

    "How bleakly poetic," Snowball remarked. "You should have cut a record."

    Henry smiled. Snowball didn't speak much, but he always found a way to make Henry smile. He never figured out how Snowball picked up the gift of gab, but it helped him maintain hope that this was all just a dream. At least then it would all make sense.

    "Well," Henry replied, "it's a little late for that." He had actually intended to learn the guitar. He'd even had the money saved up and the model picked out. Then the sky opened.

    It was hard to say if Henry remembered it. At times, he believed the memory had formed and immediately erased itself when the white light enveloped everything late on that October night. It must have been a long, painful, melodramatic experience, the kind of thing prophecies and Renaissance epics are built upon. How could the end of the world have been anything less?

    At other times, though, he was convinced it really did happen that quickly — so fast that it hardly left a memory at all. Just a light, and a scream.

    Then nothing. Only what was left.

    Henry removed 'Sgt. Pepper' from its sleeve, put it on a nearby turntable and lowered the needle. The music kicked off as Henry rummaged through the rest of the house. Henry perused the master bedroom, where he found a white corduroy jacket that fit him perfectly. The days were getting shorter, and the nights were getting cooler. It was a good time to get something to keep him warm. He buttoned up the jacket, and the chill faded a little.

    "It's going to get dark soon," Snowball said when Henry emerged from the bedroom. "We should probably stay here for the night. We'd at least be a little warmer."

    Henry jammed his hands into his pockets and looked out the window, where the sun was nestled on the horizon. There was nothing left to see except the Great White, and he wasn't going to cross it in the dark. He wasn't even sure if he was ready to cross it in the day. For all he knew, it had swallowed the earth, leaving nothing but a few hundred miles in north Texas. If there was nothing to find here, the was probably nothing to find there.

    "Might as well," Henry sighed. Then a door creaked behind him, and he whirled around. He pulled the door open to reveal a stairwell that led down into darkness.

    He wasn't ready to give up the last house yet. "Let's check down there then settle in for the night," he said. Snowball leapt into the pack, which Henry slung over his shoulder. He flipped on a light in the stairwell and went down.

    It was a claustrophobic, unfurnished basement, complete with bare brick walls and burned-out light bulbs. Mangled cardboard boxes were stacked in feeble towers and scattered about the floor. Against the far wall, in the dim glow of the light, was a rusty refrigerator.

    "Maybe," Henry said, rushing to the refrigerator. "Maybe, maybe, maybe." He jerked back on the door handle, revealing loaded cases of beer, Dr. Pepper and bottled water.

    He shouted with glee as he pulled out a case of water. There were 30 bottles inside, with another case still in the refrigerator. If nothing else, he and Snowball would live for another couple weeks.

    "Tonight," Henry cried to Snowball, who was curled up inside the pack, "we dine like kings!"

    They were alone. Very uncertain and alone. But they were alive.

    Henry was starting to think about how great a warm bed would be tonight when the one light bulb flickered out. The basement door slammed shut, and the room went black. Snowball shivered.

    "What the hell?" Henry muttered. He tried to find a path back to the stairs but stumbled over a cardboard box. Water bottles scattered across the concrete floor, and Henry fumbled for his footing.

    The soft hum of music crept through the darkness.

    'Newspaper taxis appear on the shore,
    Waiting to take you away.
    Climb in the back with your head in the clouds,
    And you're gone.'

    Snowball was still shivering. Henry reached back to console the rabbit when he felt a touch on his shoulder, like an icy breeze, and he jumped.

    "Oh, I didn't mean to startle you," whispered a gentle voice. Henry couldn't tell if it was coming from behind, in front or from the side. More than likely, it was all around him. "Here, let me help you."

    The immediate area was illuminated by a sudden, blinding flash of light. Henry shirked, then rubbed his eyes to reveal the smiling face of a girl. Platinum blonde hair flowed over her ears, and above her outstretched hand floated a small, white flame.

    Henry didn't know whether to be frightened or overjoyed. So he merely froze. "What, who are you?" he asked.

    The girl appeared as startled by the question as Henry was. She pursed her lip and appeared to turn the question over in her mind, once, twice, three times. Then, with an ear to the music, she replied, "Just call me Lucy."

    The girl couldn't have been older than 12. She stood, unfazed, at almost half Henry's height, smiling all the while. The white flame filled the room with a comforting warmth.

    Henry began to wonder if this was just another product of this grand dreamscape. "Jesus, I thought everyone was dead," he said, running his hand through his hair. "How are you still alive? How am I still alive? What's going on?" The questions spilled out of him uncontrollably. Then Lucy put a cool finger on his lip, and he went silent.

    "I'll show you," she replied giddily, like a confident girl taking the stage. She closed her hand, and the flame extinguished, but the room remained illuminated. Then Lucy took Henry by the hand and led him up the stairs, through the door and into the sudden, brilliant daylight.

    As he came through the door, Henry brushed a palm frond from his face and realized he was surrounded by a vast, green jungle. Frogs called in the distance, and birds replied from the treetops. Beams of sunlight peeked through the green overhead, as if night had never existed. Henry turned to find that the door he had emerged from was gone, leaving only the broad trunk of a tree.

    "Huh —" Henry croaked. He couldn't manage anything more.

    Lucy giggled and led Henry deeper into the jungle, through the thick fronds and past a marsh to a clearing, where they stopped. Snowball stretched out of the pack and over Henry's shoulder, and Lucy grinned.

    Not even 10 meters in front of them, two strange, blue-skinned creatures sat, perched on a rock. They were hunched over, silent and staring at each other with green eyes that were set deep in their narrow skulls. Their long tails curled around them, as if they were feeling the air. They looked perplexed, yet fascinated.

    Then one spoke, clearly and deliberately, in a language Henry had never heard before. Then the other spoke, in the same manner. One voice bellowing, the other soft.

    "Don't worry," Lucy said, sensing Henry's flooding emotions. "They can't see you."

    "What are they?" Henry asked.

    "They're talking," Lucy said proudly. "Their first conversation."

    Henry stood up straight. "But this doesn't explain anything," he said, frustrated. "Could I please just get some straight answers?"

    Lucy put her hands on her waist and looked at him, confused. Then the smile returned. "You already know them," she said, "but I'll refresh your memory." She waved her hand, and Henry was again enveloped by a white light.

    Henry waited for the world to refocus, but this time, the white remained. It extended out from him, unbroken, in every direction. He reached down and ran his hands through the white dust at his feet. It was exactly as he imagined the Great White to be, and now that he was in it, he was frightened.

    But Lucy consoled him with a squeeze of his hand. "Watch," she said. "Do as I do." She flicked her hand up, then waved it across the landscape. Dubious, Henry repeated the action, but to no avail. The Great White scowled around him, unimpressed.

    Henry shook his head. "I don't see what — "

    "No," Lucy interrupted. "You've really got to mean it. You've got to try reeeeeeeeeaaal hard." She squeezed her neck down on her shoulders and clenched her fists, and Henry imagined a light bulb was ready to pop over her head at any moment.

    And, in spite of his doubts and fears, he chuckled. For once, if just for a moment, he felt good.

    So he tried again, real hard this time. He turned his hand over, and a white flame appeared, brilliant, even against the backdrop of the Great White. He suppressed his shock, then waved his hand over the landscape. The flame shot into the distance, and a wave of color washed over the dust at their feet. Greens, blues, reds, blacks and browns. Warm colors and cool colors; violent colors and peaceful colors. The greens swirled into expansive jungles. The blues splashed into vast oceans. From the blacks and browns sprouted deserts and mountains, and from them, the reds of violent volcanoes. The world beneath them cried out, in a chorus of pain and pleasure, as it gave birth to itself.

    Henry calmed his hurried breathing and realized, suddenly, that he was weightless. He looked over to Lucy, who was beaming with pride.

    "Try it again," Lucy whispered.

    So Henry did, and the flame launched skyward, where it bore the limitless expanse of space. Where Lucy placed her fingers, stars, planets and galaxies were born. Below, even though he couldn't see it, Henry could feel new life springing forth.

    Snowball's whiskers brushed against Henry's shoulder. "Henry," Snowball gasped, "look at all this."

    "Congratulations, Henry," Lucy said. "Your first planet."

    Henry huffed and didn't know whether to grin or question. So, again, he just froze.

    "You wondered why you were still alive," Lucy continued. "You wondered why you were the last man on earth, why even though all the other people had disappeared, you were left behind."

    "Then," Henry began, hesitating, "what if I'm not a man?"

    Lucy nodded. "All things come to an end. It was just man's time."

    It was man's time, he thought. It wasn't the end of the world. Just the end of man. He tried to wrap his head around all that had happened. If I'm not a man, he thought, I must be.... He struggled with it, even as the truth became clear.

    Henry glanced over his shoulder. "But what about Snowball? How is he — "

    "Snowball is as much a part of you as your body. On earth, the rabbit's time is past. As is the time of the deer, the rat, the whale, the honeybee, the giraffe, the aardvark." Lucy giggled. "Maybe in a few trillion years, they'll get their turn again. Everything does eventually."

    Henry looked all around him — at the earth below, at the stars above, at the life that had been borne out of the Great White. He looked at everything he had created. My first planet, he thought, and he smiled. It was good. It was damn good.

    He leaned back, weightless and content. And with their job complete, Henry and Lucy rested among the stars.
     
  7. Morgynne
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    Morgynne New Member

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    The Watchers - Approx. 543 words

    Outside of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Pripyat, Soviet Union
    April 26, 1986 approximately 1:21 AM as they measured


    The cold darkness was all consuming for them, unless they were surrounded by that bright blindness they called light. Danger was sensed, the call sent out. Mothers flew on the wings of gossamer moonlight, we followed as best we could. Others pecked at the heels of the younglings.

    A shame they couldn’t sense the impending doom. But then, they destroyed us, why should we help them when they will be destroyed? If I could shrug, I would have, but the neutrality was our nature.

    Perhaps a kilometer measured we started feeling it....the air shifted, became more violent as each successive second passed. Wings flapped furiously trying to put distance between us and whatever the predator was. But then, no longer were we flying, but being catapulted through the air on a destructive wave of heat that none of us had ever felt, not even the elders. A few of the youngest dropped, their feathers singed by the heat their wings no longer able to support their bodies.

    Two kilometers away, after the wave abated and we were able to fly on our own accord, individuals from the flock plummeted out of the sky, overwhelmed by some strange illness. Others felt it, as I did, but we pushed onwards. I counted each wing stroke, forced myself through the first few, then the next few. The flock leaders motioned for a landing.

    The humans in the night scrambled, tripped dazedly from their sleep, screamed. The stench of burning flesh permeated the frigid air. Through their pain and confusion, the humans never saw the flock of barn swallows struggle to make a successful landing on the tree nearby. It was pitiful to watch as the oldest of our family blindly crashing into the branches, falling out of flight. After it was all said and done only a tenth of our flock remained alive.

    Forty years and ten generations later.... April 26, 2026

    Flock memories record a horror that has almost become a myth. Did it ever really happen? I don’t know, but our elders pass the story on. Vague memories haunt this generation, a fear and desperation that is surreal and cannot be pinpointed to a situation in our own lives. Its been a few generations since we returned from our self-imposed exile so many generations ago to our original nesting area. The elders remind us of how our flock has grown to almost the same number of family members.

    We’ve watched as the few humans that remain have died off one by one. Only the survivors are there to dig the holes and place the bodies as they are wont to do in their traditions. Now, there is only one left, and his flock that rarely visits. He reminds me a lot of our eldest as he hobbles to get water, seeds, bread. From nesting to first flight, I have watched him. I have made my own nest in the eaves of his roof, and fed my hatchlings from the crumbs that he drops. Perhaps my life will end before his does, perhaps not. Either way, we have survived the catastrophe they were unable to.
     
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