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June 17, 2024

Last Night on Earth

By Alyssa Murphy

The girl walks down the ruined road, oblivious to the carnage around her. She is a survivor -- obliviousness comes with the territory, a natural block against depression. Unlike most of the poor souls who survived the bombings and their aftermath, she still has hope. Lingering on the edge of womanhood -- she is perhaps eighteen, though time has become an indefinite entity since the world went to pieces and it's possible she's several years older -- she is one of the few who still believes there is a reason for her sorrows. And that, more than anything else, is what keeps her fighting.

In the distance, she spots a figure, clad in black and easily a foot taller than her, standing and staring at what might've been a car. It's harder to tell what things used to be anymore, and the girl has stopped wondering. No, what fascinates her is the figure -- the man, she notes, for no woman she's ever seen stands at six feet even and she knew quite a lot of people in the world that was. As she inches closer, her suspicions are confirmed. There's something decidedly masculine about the other person, and carried with it is a hint of something dangerous, something deadly. Most of the others she's encountered in her travels have had that aura, and some of them have taken full advantage of her innocence, but she doubts this one is anything to worry about. If he were, she tells herself, he would've pounced by now.

The man doesn't notice he's not alone until the girl is almost close enough to touch, at which point he whirls around and stares. Shit, he thinks, taking her in. It's been a while since he's seen anyone else, perhaps a week or longer, and most of the others he's encountered have been shells more than people. Not this girl, though. The first thing he notices is how tiny she is; the second is that there's a fire in her that even the technical end of the world hasn't been able to put out. In a way, he envies her and her innocence. Underneath the soot and other debris, he has no doubt that she's beautiful, as such a creature deserves to be. So much for today being nice and quiet.

"Hey," she says, her mouth barely moving. She estimates him at maybe eight years her senior, but again, age is a volatile factor nowadays. Attractive, in a certain dark way, and not looking at her like he's about to hurt her. In other words, he's as ideal as anyone can be nowadays.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" he asks, pointing at the carnage all around them. "Tragic, of course, but in the most beautiful way."

She pulls her jacket tighter around her skinny body, trying to protect herself. "I think it's horrible."

"But you --" he takes a step closer, inches from her now, "-- no doubt lost someone. Everyone. Whereas I never had anyone to lose."

"I could ..." her voice shakes. "What do you want from me?"

"Everything and nothing," he replies. "But for now, innocent companionship, if you've no objections."

It turns out he's headed the same way she is, and they walk together for a few hours in silence, neither of them thinking of anything worth carrying on a conversation about. Their movements are even, slow because they've nowhere to be, and when he reaches for her hand after a while, she lets him. There's nothing to fear, she tells herself, nothing to worry about from the mystery man in black leather. If he were to hurt her, he would've done it by now.

Eventually it grows dark and he stops alongside the road, gathering materials for a fire. He doesn't ask her to help, so she stays out of the way and watches, only stepping in to offer matches when a sufficient pile has been made. The whole exchange is done wordlessly, for fear there might be awkwardness if mouths open, and they are both at peace for now. Fingers brush for a moment longer than is strictly necessary, but that is all -- for now.

Another hour passes, the fire burns, and they sit a few inches apart to take full advantage of it. They found little material to burn -- most of the world is ash now, unfit for anything -- but there is enough for a few hours. It's all they need, all things considered. It gets dark early now, and as the chill of night falls, they inch closer. The man reaches out and takes the girl's hand, tentatively at first but then firmly, solidly. "Is this all right?" he asks, cautious lest he offend her.

"More than all right," she replies, confident, and she inches closer and closer until his arms encircle her. It's inevitable, she thinks. They are perhaps the last two people on earth, or at least the last two in this part of it, and it is only natural for her to give in and get as close as she can. He's warm, she thinks, which is strange considering the leather he wears like armor. Solid, safe, and so convenient.

His mental patterns wander down a different route. The girl, bless her, is a twig under her dress. He could see it when she approached, long legs like toothpicks, but seeing and touching are two entirely different matters and the latter is far worse. She's skin and bone, nothing left of her but her spirit, and he wishes he could do something about it, but he can't. It's been harder and harder to find food, and he has nothing to offer her. The girl, nameless -- he needs to find something to call her, if only for the night?

"It's Persephone," she says, as if hearing his thoughts. For a moment, he thinks she might be able to, but that's not a superpower he'd ascribe to her and he immediately drops the notion. "My name. Persephone Summers."

It suits her, he decides, and he nods his head. "Matthew," he replies. "Matthew Hart. If names even matter anymore."

"Why do you say that?" she asks, suddenly offended.

"Because ... if you think about it ... there's no one left but us, Persy. We needn't pretend like anything we do matters."

"But it does matter!" she exclaims. "It matters because ... it does, okay?"

"Not if there's nothing left of us," he mutters, glaring at her. "There's certainly nothing left of you."

She shivers, shakes against him, and he knows she understands. It's that obvious. Another snap and there'll be nothing left but the prettiest corpse he's ever seen, and he's had the honor of seeing a lot of dead bodies these last few years. "Please. Just last through the night."

From there, their conversation takes more pleasant turns. They talk about everyone they can remember, families and friends, past lovers on his side, all of them gone now or as good as. They talk about foods, remembering the tastes -- she misses chocolate most, while he would do anything for a ripe apple. They talk about their ambitions and reactions, everything that was shattered when the world went down, and they remember because it's all that's left for them to do.

Slowly, the fire dies, and with it their spirits quiet as well. He lies down on the ground and helps her find a suitable position next to him, almost on top of him with her head nestled on his chest. He strokes her hair, a tangled red mess that still manages to be beautiful in the moonlight. "You're beautiful," he whispers as her eyes close, and moments later his follow the same path.

In the morning, the sun shines down on two new corpses -- a girl, dead in the night from hunger and sickness, and a man whose bloody wrists glimmer in the light.

Article © Alyssa Murphy. All rights reserved.
Published on 2018-11-26
Image(s) are public domain.
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