Sunday, May 10, 2015

Dead at Dawn

I came to the desert to be at peace. I’d heard stories of the beautiful red and purple sunrises that kissed the sands and rocks every morning, and I had decided to finally see it… really see it… for myself. It hadn’t been a hard choice. Here was very little left to me in the way of novel experiences. I had climbed mountains, swam oceans. I had seen civilizations that no living man had, and had held objects older than memory. I had seen wild beasts that no man could imagine. I had seen beauty which make me long to weep, and horrors that made even the hardest of hearts tremble. I am versed in languages. I have traveled the world and assimilated myself into many cultures. I have excelled at art and performance. I have tasted the finest wines, and innumerable lovers. I am an educated hedonist, with knowledge of most subjects. I have supped on pleasures of the flesh that would have made the Sodomites tremble in envy. I remembered the passionate ache of love, both carnal and unrequited, and the tender whispers of long dead poets.

But I don’t remember having ever seen the dawn break over the desert. So here I sit on this rock, legs folded underneath me, my hands resting on my knees, as I face east.

I didn’t think I’d be so nervous. There had been plenty of time to consider this, and I’d never let new things scare me before. I’d watched volcanoes erupt, seen tornadoes tear through towns, and earthquakes swallow cities. I had seen the bright flashes as the first bombs had fallen on the cities. The time that followed had been only pain and suffering, and eventually death. The war had been one of mutually assured destruction. I’d seen the fire of meteors and nuclear weapons, but I’ll be damned, I never saw the sun rise in the desert in all of this time. Every description had spoken of fire filling the sky, but without fear. I ached to see it, to fulfill my memories of a time so long ago.

For years, the dust had choked out the sun, casting the world in dark shades. Recently, it had begun to clear, and I had started seeing the blinks of stars at some nights, but from the conditions of the world, life seemed unsustainable. It was upon this thought that I had begun to wander the barren wastes of the world, searching. In the beginning, I tried to mark the passing of days, and weeks, until eventually all time blurred together as the dull ache inside of me grew into a fire which seemed to spread throughout my whole body, and still I had wandered. I picked through the remains of charred cities, looking at the twisted steel and concrete trees of every great metropolis of man. There were bones, and ashes, and dust. The plant life had been twisted and stunted by the radiation from the bombs that had peppered the earth, like a handful of small pebbles smashing the reflective stillness of a pond. The ripples of human hubris had spread across the land, bringing death and disease. I suppose that most of the population had died in the first few months, as the bombs leveled cities and the wind swept radiation. The few survivors huddled in their dens, and we had tried so desperately to do more for them, with all the selfishness we could muster.  In the decade following the first of the bombs, I heard prayers in every language, and saw the faithful tremble as the radiation sickness deprived them of their life, or as the mobs tore them to pieces. The war had raged until there was no one left to fight, only people too tire and hungry and sick and scared to give a damn about anything except for survival. By then, it was too late. I saw the fatalists kill themselves in droves rather than face the coming times, and I never blamed them.  The survivors clung to everything, but their peers had finally harnessed something greater than the human drive for survival, and the outcome was extinction.

The few of us left had tried to muster the shattered remnants of the species into some semblance of colonies, but they all failed. One by one, the vestiges of humanity faded and left the earth, even as the nuclear winter enveloped us. We stalked through the mountains and cities, prying open locked doors and digging our way over the course of years into the few bunkers we could find. By now, those we had missed are likely all long gone, starved away to emptiness. Now all that is left to me is a blighted landscape, covered with the twisted, shattered memories of a species which had destroyed itself. One by one, I lost touch with my kin, and my hunger grew inside of me like a dark cancer. I must have wandered for decades now, burying myself in the earth like an insect, and scowering for any morsel of sustenance. Bugs and rats had offset the gnawing pain, and perhaps prevented me from giving into insanity. In my travels, I had encountered many of my kind who had been driven mad by their desperate hunger. Their eyes had been fierce and empty of anything except for the hunger, the desire. If a mirror could show, I would imagine that mine had not held much more intelligence in them. Still, I had seen what my brothers and sisters had become. The bitter taste of their ashes and cold blood seemed to linger on my tongue long after its vitality had left my body. I came to understand that though I relished my immortality, I did not relish eons of suffering turning me into a feral caricature. Everything that I had loved about longevity had ceased. There was no music, no art, no pleasures of the flesh which were left to entice me onward to forever. There was no beauty, and in a world without beauty, immortality was a curse. I didn’t buy into any such superstitious nonsense, but forever is a long time to be alone and insane. My body was rebelling against the hunger, and the mind which I had prided myself on was destined to break.

So here I am, alone and hungry. Tired and waiting. My stomach and skull both ached like a sore tooth, and I was hungry. The hunger was a constant companion in an empty world. Unlike everything else, it never left my side. Worse than the hunger, though, were the memories. I remembered everything, and there were long years to look back on. I was tired, though, and I needed peace: peace with reality, peace with who I was, with what was to come. Peace with what I was.

I was more than alone.

I had seen the rise and fall of empires. I had seen stumbling apes become so delusional about their place in the order of things that they had destroyed themselves. At one time, I had even been one of them.

Now, though? Now, I was just old and alone, and very tired.

So I had walked into the desert as far as I could. I walked most of the night, not thinking of the intoxicating taste of human blood, even though I felt an ache in my teeth at the mere thought of the crimson ambrosia. Instead, I tried to remember what the sunrise looked like. In all my travels, in all of my time upon this earth, I had never seen one of my kind die, except at the hands on another being. I knew that hunger could not kill us, and I had not found a soul to burden with my death, so I turned my eyes eastward, to my last salvation. If I had any inkling of belief in a god of any sort who might hear me, I would pray. Instead, I will just sit on this rock, remembering back to days where I could feel my lungs fill with breath, and the soft wetness of tears on my face.

And the feeling of warm radiance I could only assume was the memory of sunlight, shining on the ace of a beautiful brown-haired girl whom time had forgotten.

I couldn’t remember anything of the sunrise except a vague impression of fire and heat and beauty so profound that the idea made me wish I could weep. I know what happens to my kind without humans, now… what I’m destined to become. I know, and at first I was scared, but I’ve had nothing but time to think this through, and I’ve made my decision. I had a long, happy existence. I’m finally at peace.

Besides, tomorrow is a new day.