The Survivor

A short piece of prose (sounds better than short story, no?) I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I thought I’d share with you all. I’m not sure whether the questions in italics work, but they sounded right at the time. Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading it.

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The Survivor

What would you do if everything you knew was gone?

Devastation is rife. A city that at one time was hospitable and welcoming, is now a desolate wasteground. Most of the terrain has been reduced to rubble, covering the land in thick layers of choking dust. The sections of pavement and road not obstructed by mounds of crumbling masonry are still deadly; heavily fractured, a careless step forward could take you down a deep fissure where there is no escape. Down in the abyss, there is only impenetrable darkness, and the wait for death.

What would you do if everything you had was destroyed?

Buildings, once solid structures, lie in ruins. Some still stand defiantly, but they too are fighting a losing battle. Long derelict, most are missing walls, and those that have somehow remained intact despite the abuse, are heavily lacerated by deep fractures that crisscross their surface. Windows exist only as glass fragments scattered across uneven ground. Shops and offices are empty husks, with anything of real value stolen long ago. What remains is damaged beyond repair.  If the owners were ever to return, they would not recognize the homes they once proudly cherished. But there is no fear of any traumatic reunions. These are relationships that will never ever be recommenced.

What would you do if everything you loved had been taken from you?

Though the humans have disappeared, that doesn’t mean this forgotten city is uninhabited. There are many creatures that have made a home in the debris. In this new land, it is all about survival, and with that a new food chain emerges. Primitive needs; food, shelter, water, are the only things that matter. Culture, society…they are dead.

Rats scavenge through the rubble, pestilent bloated beasts that move in large, violent packs, working together to annihilate anything that dares to interrupt their onslaught. But, in times of desperation – and every minute in this world is desperate – they often turn on each other. Today, an overweight grey rat will be the victim. In its haste to explore a small alcove, the rat dislodged a large chunk of stone, which crushed its hind leg and pinned it to the ground.  The rat releases an agonized high-pitched squeal that reverberates throughout the rubble. The other rats, now alerted to the distress of their companion, swarm in on the helpless rat. Without hesitation, they devour it. In a matter of seconds, the injured rat is reduced to bone. Even the blood that spilled over the rock is consumed. Nothing is wasted.

Feral, rabid dogs roam these wastes too. Amongst the crumbling buildings, they hunt, their eyes no longer showing any resemblance of the household pets they may have once been. There is no love in those brown eyes, no happiness. Now, these are violent beasts exist only to kill, viewing everything and anything as their next meal.

Three of these dogs chase a small ginger cat through the devastation. They snarl, their bloody jaws already salivating with anticipation. The cat moves limberly between the masonry, but she cannot lose its pursuers. Her tail is frayed and burnt, a result of a fire she was fortunate to escape. But here she faces a completely different type of threat, and the meows of fear signal that her fight is almost done. Yet the cat continues to flee, a primal instinct she cannot control pushing her onwards. And despite the odds, she makes it into a small crevice, her blackened tail just making it inside before the first dog can pounce.

The dogs surround the small hole, their increased slobber displacing the dust underneath their paws. They are so close, they can feel it. But their powerful jaws are too large, too broad, to reach inside. The cat is safe; they cannot get her. However, the dogs do not leave the opening, and the cat eventually dies inside.

Elsewhere, there is further evidence of the death and decay that is rife in this world. A deer, a strange visitor to the city, came here in the hope of finding salvation.  But all it discovered was more pain and suffering, far worse than it could have imagined.

The deer lies in a pool of its own blood and effluence.  Exsanguination has not yet put the spindly legged creature out of it misery, so the brown doe can only watch as the white fleshy maggots feast upon her paralyzed body. She would whine, but even that is beyond her; her tongue was the first port of call for the fly larvae. The deer had tried to fight them off, but she was overwhelmed. Now she just waits for the bitter-sweet mercy of death.

Eventually, it arrives. A .22 bullet is propelled right through her eyeball into her brain. The globule explodes in a shower of blood and liquid, splattering the wall behind her.  It is a violent, brutal ending, but at least it is finally over for the deer.  The maggots continue their meal, too eager, too hungry to care about the deer’s sudden fate. It will be a while before their meal goes cold.

The man who fired the bullet shoulders his gun and climbs down from a ledge twenty feet from the deer. The survivor approaches the dead creature, a look of pity in his eyes. He initially thinks at least it will suffer no longer but soon, another thought flits through his mind, a far more troubling idea he will struggle to shake for a long time; when I succumb to this, who will end my misery? Or am I already there, just waiting for the bullet?

He doesn’t give a voice to these questions. Of course, there is no point; there is no one to say it to, for he is all alone in this world.

Instead, the survivor moves past the deer corpse, and continues his journey through the destroyed street.  Most of the other scavengers are wise enough to evade him, but those desperate enough to attack are swiftly dissuaded by the Survivor’s rifle; the two wolf pelts he carries around his waist show what he is capable of.

But at that moment, the Survivor is unconcerned by any potential threats in the ruins around him. The sunlight is beginning to fade, and he needs to find shelter before it is too late. In less than two hours, the man will have something much worse than dogs to contend with.

Already the sky is darkening, and the Survivor watches the clouds with apprehension. With increased speed, he pushes his way up a large rubble pile. Several times he loses his footing, sending chips of masonry cascading down, but he doesn’t ease up. Only when he is at the top does the Survivor allow himself to catch his breath.  Immediately, he wishes he hadn’t.

The survivor stands perfectly still, like a forgotten idol, and surveys the sprawling city in front of him. A solitary tear rolls down his cheek. Through chapped lips, he utters one word, a word that no longer has any meaning, lost with the civilization that once thrived here. But he says it to remember, to grieve, and to remind himself why he still fights on when all those he loved have conceded defeat. Then he moves on, because that is all he can do.

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