Brown eyes of broken soul gleamed with the sheen of unshed tears. Shaking hands were clasped tightly over her heart, cold from lack of blood circulation on account of how hard her hands were squeezing. A dry sob caught in her throat before a broken scream tore from a parched throat that hadn’t been quenched since before.
Except this time there would be no after.
She fell forward landing defeated on her bruised, scratched knees, mind repeating the scene that had burned itself into her memory, the scene that had become her reality:
A blackened landscape, dark and depressing. Concrete slabs turned into nothing more than rubble, pieces of a time not too long ago, yet still a lifetime ago.
They used to be buildings, she remembers bitterly. Tall, proud structures, standing tall enough that they seemed to brush against the neverending midnight heavens above, the symbol of a once glorious nation.
Plants no longer grew.
The soil was no more than ash, dust and soot, the remains from that searing wall of flames.
That all consuming blast.
Nothing, and no one, regardless of status, accomplishment, race, or gender, could escape that haunting light, beginning and finishing in not even the time it took to draw a dying breath, that told of the end.
Not the end of a chapter, nor the end of an era. No, the end of all was and all that could have been. Up in flames, in half the time it took to blink, 4 billion years worth of history, progress, of life.
No one left but her to remember. One person carrying the legacy of a dying planet, and when she was gone?
There would be no way of knowing that a nameless, violent planet with lands of shadow and oceans of rust colored poison, was once anything more.
Was once lush grassy plains and the refreshing smell of rain coaxing a barren landscape back to life. What was once the cradle of life- a mother’s protective, loving embrace setting the scene for what one day, would become a home for billions.
Was 5 o’clock traffic and hot cocoa warming cold snowman sculpting hands. The purr of a kitten with a coat of cashmere, and the roar of a noble lion perched on its ledge, spirit untamable, free to live as king of itself. Or the cool yet searing metal of shackles anchoring tired souls to a world of unfamiliar white, seas and thousands of miles from home. The wrinkles of a genuine smile, and the warmth of a love returned.
The air was stale and stagnant, the eternal stench of sulfur hung heavy like the very atmosphere would ignite at the first whisper of heat.
She was the last.
Her family no more, her city no more, her people- no more. She couldn’t save them, couldn’t save anyone. Not even if she tried.
“Alex! Alex! Please…” Her little sister sobbed running as fast as her stubby 4 year old legs could carry her.
She gripped the chubby hand firmly, “ We’ll make it, I promise okay? We’ll make it..” She said resolutely, “ We have to.”, as they ran around a corner, the crossing light was red.
A second later they were shoved by a man in police man gear, his eyes widened like a crazed horse, only whites visible.
“Move it. We’re all damned, and this is hell. No one can save us now, but I’m sure as hell not dying like this. ”
Blood flew from his mouth and splatter on her cheek. It warm, warm, warm and so red against her ashen cheek.
He was supposed to be guide civilians to bomb shelters, but in the face of annihilation people lose everything but the instinct to flee- to live.
She feels herself fall and skins her knees on metal support beams, sticking out of the broken concrete, glass shards of broken shop windows make a home in her flesh.
“ Aaahhhhh!” Her sister screams, and her head turns around at breakneck speed.
“Come on. We have to go, it could be here any second from now.” She insisted.
“I can’t.” Hazel eyes glisten, “ My leg.” Her sister whimpered, voice thick with pain.
Her sister’s leg is mangled and she throws up a bit in her mouth at the sight of it. Teeth dig into her bottom lip and the metallic taste of blood fills her mouth.
Arms scoop her sister onto her back and sheer adrenaline carries her to the bomb shelter 100 meters ahead. Somewhere behind her she hears the ring of a gunshot and the face of her sister presses into her shoulder seeking comfort, tears soaking into her torn shirt. Setting her sister down, she makes a fist and raps hard on the metal door leading down into a bomb shelter. The warm wet spots on her shirt tingling and remind her of what is at stake, giving her the strength to fight for a chance.
“ OPEN!!!” She screamed, voice cracking, sound vibrating in a parched throat and forced from behind chapped lips.
There’s no response, and panic consumes her, no no no, it can’t end here, not like this. She tries again pounding, her hands stinging from the impact.
The door shuddered for a second until it finally screeched open, hinges groaning with the effort.
A woman with greasy, limp brown hair and too-wide eyes, looks back at her. She must have been there for a while.
“Shelter. We need shelter.” She manages to get past chattering teeth.
Dull, cold eyes look back, “ There ain’t enough room sweetheart.” The woman drawls.
“Please.” She begged.
The woman’s eyes grew even wider with shock at the sight of something behind her.
“It’s here.” she whispered
An arm shot out and grabbed her, pulling her into a hot room, heated by masses of bodies crammed in a too-small space that stunk of body odor. In the dimly lit zone, her eyes could make out people huddling, hands grasping rosaries, and people shaking back and forth. Prayers were whispered by even the most unreligious folk, all begging to survive the approaching bomb.
She let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding.
“We made it Cat.” She breathed.
Silence was her answer.
Making her way over to the woman she asked frantically, “ Where’s my sister.”
The woman shrugged, “Out there, I suppose.”
She ran towards the door, hands scrambling to the lock, yanking on it. Feet pushing her up so she could see out the grimy square they called a window.
The door rattled but did not open.
Through the square she could see a little girl, with blonde hair darkened to a brown from dirt and soot, carried away from various fires in the city like black snow, lying crumpled on the pavement, a broken doll.
Her heart cried and she tried harder to open the door.
“Someone help me! PLEASE, my sister is out there. My sweet, darling little sister is out there. PLEASE, oh GOD SOMEONE PLEASE!!” She sobbed and screamed, a sound of raw anguish, tears blurring her vision.
Suddenly, the earth shook, and for a second everything seemed to be in slow motion. The world went deathly still, a moment of respite before the end. She saw her sisters form, still lying on the pavement, an fragile arm weakly reaching, silhouetted by a bright flash of light.
And then the world went white, and her sister- gone as if she was never there to begin with.
She fell off the ladder into the pit that was called a bomb shelter, it might as well have been Tartarus, screams above her, silence below her, before it all just stopped. The walls melting before her eyes, but still she fell, voice hoarse and her scream, eternal.
She was the last.
Before. Before the bomb.
She wonders why they did it.
Humanity, brought to its last breath by a weapon of its own creation, used against themselves in a way that was unimaginable. Invented while knowing exactly what it was capable of.
Her eyes flicker slowly, each small butterfly movement a struggle like moving through molasses.
Why have power, if there’s nothing left to rule.
Her thoughts start to slow and her heartbeat now a pitiful tap instead of thud.
Why keep resisting when there’s nothing left to live for, the thought planting itself in her tired, tired mind.
Struggling, she painfully took one final, shallow breath.
Earth was gone.