I love apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic stories.
The woman walked along the silent highway that cut like an old scar across the silent land. On either side of the cracked grey pavement overgrown fields of wheat ran away to the horizons. Heavy golden heads bobbed and dipped as the woman passed and she gracefully inclined her head in return. Beneath a sky of high blue that spilled like paint from one corner of everything to another nothing else moved but the woman and the grain.
The woman drank from a canteen slung around her neck. She grimaced a little at the taste, the liquid resting on her tongue like a warm penny. Water she had taken in earlier escaped back into the air as beads of sweat on her brow. She gathered the moisture on her finger and sucked the salty drops off. The canteen sloshed lightly at each of her steps; soon she would have to refill it. That wouldn’t be a problem. Or rather, ordinarily that wouldn’t be a problem, but she had seen nothing else but wheat and sun and sky since she had woken earlier that morning. The woman smiled and smeared lip balm over her mouth. Something would come along, sooner or later, something would come along because something always came along. Nature provided if you were patient and waited.
The woman stood at the crest of a hill and surveyed the world below. A crisp wind had sprung up and was driving clouds the same color as the highway across the sky. The wheat played to the wind’s call, beating the air and each other with a steady susurrus. If she turned her head one way it sounded like low voices murmuring, whispering things of great import. If she turned her head the other way it was just wheat and wind. She listened to the gold grain and pondered her options. The road split below, forked fingers that widened as they raced away from each other. One path lead deeper into the silence of the empty land. The other led to the ragged silhouette of an empty city. She shaded her eyes against the rapidly-fleeing sunlight and watched the birds that looped around and between the shattered towers. She knew their black shapes of old – they were the honor guard of death Itself, and the woman knew there was nothing still living in the city. She set her feet in the direction of the open spaces.
The woman lay beneath the black skies, marveling as the burning stars unveiled themselves before her. The storm clouds were sweeping off to the far horizon behind her. Lightning sparked and jumped, a fitful firework show. She drank in the silence of the night much the way she had drank the fresh water she had found earlier. The farmhouse, small and alone in the wilderness of wheat, had appeared like a realized dream to the woman just as the storm prepared to break. Inside the neat little house she had eaten canned corn and peas, standing in the kitchen and watching the silver sheets of rain fall and fall. Now she rested on a chair she’d dragged out of the house, soaking in the smell of wet grass and the distant boom of thunder. Her thoughts turned to a familiar refrain – that of the quiet world in which she now moved. Death had crossed the globe a year ago, first with the slow footsteps of plague, then with the swift wings of suspicion and war. She wondered if this was what the world had been like back before man first crawled out of the ocean. Sleep plucked at the woman with eager hands now. Her eyelids hid the black sky. The wind curled around her like a lover and, like a lover, whispered in her ear. No sweet nothings this time, but another sound that brought the woman to her feet, wide awake and wide-eyed, listening to a faint and soft whistling.
The woman hurried through the pale light of early morn. The wind was still her lover, but now a jealous lover, for the whistling came to her only in fits and starts. It was somewhere ahead of her and it was human, of that she was sure. Occasionally the sound shaped itself to songs that had popular two years ago. More often it was nonsense, notes thrown out into the void so the whistler would not feel alone. She moved faster now. The source of the music was growing closer, and she told herself it would be just around the next bend or just over the next hill. And yet another bend and another hill passed and still she seemed to be no nearer her goal. A strange franticness gripped the woman and she tried but failed to keep from thinking that the whistler would disappear and she would never find them. Then she went up another hill and there the whistler was, a man, resting beneath an enormous tree and whistling to the rising sun. The woman found she was smiling, and then she found the strength to move even more quickly, because now that he’d been found she couldn’t lose him.
The man looked up at her approach. His round, open face passed from bewilderment to awe as she came closer. “Hey!” he said, his voice rough as a crow’s, and rose to his feet. “Holy Mother, I can’t believe it! Look at you – you’re alive! Oh my God, it’s been so long since I’ve seen any other survivors!” Like a baby taking its first steps the man held his arms out and stumbled toward her. She smiled. “Can’t you talk?” the man asked, stopping just short of her. She shrugged. He said, “Oh hell, that doesn’t matter – I can talk enough for the both of us! Oh, Christ, I’m so happy to find someone else! I thought I’d go crazy out here!” She opened her arms and the man stepped into her embrace. They were near the same height, and as his thin and shaky arms wrapped around her she could feel his muffled words thrumming against her neck like a second heart beat. Gently she lowered one hand to her side and, finding what she needed, brought the long and sharp blade around to the man’s neck. The metal sliced through his skin like sun through the clouds. He gasped. Blood flowed. She eased him away and down, laying a finger across his lips to shush his half-breathed questions. She watched the man until his eyes went dark and the blood stopped. The woman shook her head as she took in her red-splattered hands. Washing them clean would use up most of the water in her canteen. She looked where the man had been sitting and noticed his laden backpack and string of full water bottles. She smiled. Nature provided. Something would come along because something always came along.
The woman walked along the silent highway that cut like an old scar across the silent land. The plague and the war had been blessings, wiping away the endless noise and clamor of mankind. The world was quiet, now – and she would help to keep it that way.