Author: J.D. Rice

As the sun rises, the ruins of the city begin to glimmer in orange and gold. Mangled hunks of metal and shards of glass reflect the rising sunlight, making the landscape come alive in various hues, welcoming me to a new day – another day of loneliness and misery.

I am the only one left. The sunlight does nothing but reveal the horrors I am trying to forget.

In the darkness, I could walk through the city and pretend that each lumpy form I stumbled over wasn’t the body of some poor soul who had died in the Catastrophe. I could ignore the collapsed buildings, imagining them as hills. I could tune out the groaning of those still dying, blaming the sound on the passing wind. With each step, I could let my delusion become more real.

But then the sun came up, and my dreams had to die.

I stand now in the middle of what I think was 17th Street, the remains of the local barber shop to my right, and the remains of the local barber to my left. His body is twisted in an odd position, like a doll tossed aside by a bored child. This man cut my hair once. Now he is dead, his blood dried and his body starting to stink. Where did it all go wrong?

Suddenly, it’s not just the barber I see lying in a bloody heap. It’s my mother. My sister. The cashier at the local supermarket. Other names and faces I’ve been trying to force from my mind. They’re all dead. And I’ve been left here alive.

I rush away from the scene, stumbling over rubble and trying to avert my eyes from the other dead bodies, real and imagined. Some I recognize, others I don’t. Nearly every building in town has been brought to its knees, with only a few stubborn hold-outs standing with broken windows and cracked walls. I think about climbing inside one of these to hide, but I know they could come down at any moment. Maybe that would be better.

I haven’t seen another person alive in days. Not since I tried to pull my wife from our collapsed apartment complex, not since she told me to run before the Catastrophe claimed my life as well. I ran. She died. And now a coward walks the Earth, completely alone.

I pause. My eyes gaze out over the city, ignoring the bodies and watching the sunlight glisten off the rubble. The destruction is beautiful, in its own way. The light reflecting off their surfaces shines in hues of reds, blues, indigos, and golds. The colors wash over me, hiding the bodies and the blood and the death, reminding me that there is still beauty in the world. Beauty that can never be enjoyed.

Maybe it would be better to die.

I stoop and lift a smallish piece of glass from the ground. It nicks my hand as I grip it, drawing a tiny drop of blood. My hands shake as I press the tip of the glass to my wrist.

“Go!,” my wife said from inside the rubble. “Save yourself!”

“I can’t leave you,” I said back, trying desperately to drag her from the debris.

“I’m already dead,” she said. “Just go.”

I remember her face in that moment, so filled with fear. Not for herself, but for me.

“I’m sorry,” I say, looking down at the shard of glass in my hand, unsure if I am speaking to my wife or to myself. “I’m not strong enough.”

The glass falls to the ground, followed by tiny drops of blood that glisten in the unwelcome sunrise.