I awake, and the town is empty.
Standing, I survey my surroundings. Tall buildings, hundreds of stories high, rise above me. Cars are silent in the street, unmoving, covered with dust but nothing more, no spiderwebs, no patterns of bugs. On a tall, rusted post, a flag blows quietly in the wind. I don't recognize the grey symbols fading on the cloth. I don't recognize the shape or make of the cars. I don't recognize the signs, some fallen or cracked, above boarded-up windows and doors of shops. I begin to walk down the street. I pass a pet shop, door hanging off its hinges and cages inside empty. The air smells stale.
I walk for a year.
The buildings shrink, cracks in the sidewalk grow, plants can be seen here and there where they triumphed over metal. I appreciate the green.
I keep walking until I reach a dense suburban kingdom. Every apartment looks similar, but with its own accessories. A porch swing rocks in the breeze. A doll lies on the sidewalk. A collar, engraved with the word "Rex," rots in a gutter. I knock on a door. No answer. Through a window, I can see a dark, empty room. A shrine to a God I cannot recognize sits in a corner, collecting dust. It is one of many shrines I have passed. Unlike the rotting wooden crosses of the dying man, it has no blood, shows no pain. I continue walking.
The sun shines, snow falls, rain rusts the metal structures. I continue walking.
I leave the suburban maze. I'm on a large road, paved with thick black cement. Yellow lines split it into four parts. To either side are fields line with graves. Each is white, each is two and a half feet tall, each is three feet from its neighbors. The lines extend as far as I can see. In the distance, I see mountains. I continue walking.
The grass dries, the cement heats. I believe it's summer. I transition to the grass to spare my bloody feet the pain of the asphalt. I begin to read the names as I pass. Muhammad Alvi, 2035-2112. Bianca Roosevelt, 2099-2111. Reuben Cevallos, 2075-2109. Many others are written in languages I cannot read, Mandarin and Arabic and many more. I pass a tree, then another. The leaves are yellow. I step on the cracked asphalt, noticing the yellow lines have merged into one. I continue walking.
Weeds cover the headstones, making them hard to read. The stones themselves are cracked, tilted, some collapsed. The lines have lost their sharp edge, more of a snake than a stick.The ground is no longer flat. I see Jared and Ava Turner, 2069-2106 and 2071-2105. Besides them is Connor Turner, 2099-2105. A rotting teddy bear, one eye missing, is propped against his tomb.
I notice the ground beginning to slope upwards. A stream of brown water, shimmering with all the colors of the oily rainbow, trickles down the hill, coating the graves in its path with algae. It must disappear into a crevice I hadn't noticed earlier. I see a mouse, fur matted and eyes watering, hunch by the water to drink. It is the first living being I have seen thus far. I pick her up and carry her with me. She burrows against the warmth of my hand, napping. I name her Princess and feed her some grass seed when she awakes, protecting her from falling stones as I continue up the steep mountain, stumbling as the cement path becomes yet more narrow and faded, gravel coming loose as I walk. Princess dies only an hour later. I bury my friend, kiss the upturned ground, and cry.
When I begin walking again, I notice how my muscles ache, my feet drag. I want an end. I look to the top of the hill, rimmed with trees. Maybe my sanctuary is just a day away.
I crest the hill. Below me lie yet more graveyards, as far as the eye can see. I collapse. I scream. I continue walking.
Some gravestones grow, some shrink. They change shapes and color. They become unique. The sky is grey and wet, a mist covers the ground. The ground is a simple dirt path. I pass a tree, then another knobbled and bare. I continue to read engravings. Darya Petrov, 2018-2098. Daniel Farrow, 2044-2097. Images of angels and hearts dot their graves.
The path disappears under snow. No footprints dot the layer of white, and I cannot see the stones. When they melt, I notice the path is gone, just a line of flattened grass. I continue walking.
Spring brings no flowers, only thorns and weeds. Summer bakes the earth. By fall I reach a bench, faded and rusting, in a circle of trees. The headstone "Soria" sits before me, surrounded by four others. Leandro and Martina, born 2048 and 2050. Julian, born 2077. Anna, born 2084. All died between 2091 and 2093. Wind blows dried leaves around my ankles, across the cross-shapes of their graves. I hear a girl cry in the silence that follows. The whisper of her mother comforts her. I bid them farewell, standing to leave the clearing. They're upset because they haven't realized their time is past. Pausing besides a tree, I tell them as much. They fall silent. I continue walking. I reach the end.
A simple gravestone, made of the same white stone I had seen years before, sits before a open grave. Humanity, 200,000 BC to 2112 AC. I glance down at my rotting arms, the dull yellow bone peeking from the spoiled meat of my calves. I sigh.
I crawl into the grave and surrender to the passing of time.
is a Oregonian sophomore who loves writing fantasy fiction and poetry.