The streets were crowded and yet John felt loneliness cling to him like a wet blanket. He was walking out of the city proper, passing people who nodded in his direction, some who looked familiar to him. He was unable to place them, unable to recall their names. He was unaware of how he should know of their existence, their purpose, or any association they had with him or his life. He walked slowly, unsure of where each step was leading him, yet knowing they would take him where he needed to be when it happened.
The rapidly dropping temperatures were cooling the evening air, and the sun had been hidden behind thick clouds for weeks. The grass and trees had turned a concerning shade of gray and seemed to have all but discontinued their growth.
Water was going at a high premium, selling mostly in black markets, like cheap alcohol during the prohibition days. Food had been rationed and since farmers were unable to grow crops, artificial substances passed for food, or what were considered survival meals. These were pills that the government guaranteed life sustaining yet still left the belly of a small child protruding and looking like a tiny Santa. People were moving across the country, mostly on foot. Gasoline was unheard of now and oil, it was just gone.
John was heading north, following the coastline, to the small town where he had grown up. He had good memories there and if the end was coming, he thought it best to end it where it had all began. Parts of the Gulf States had been under water for five years and islands were memories from vacations long past. California had been washed out into the Pacific Ocean. He was following some type of homing device that his mind and soul had set for him.
He had been living in a large city, thinking that the more people, the more teamwork equals more survivors. It never happened that way. People were looking out for themselves. When he left, the streets were covered with the bodies of the weak and diseased. So unable to fight for themselves or fend off attacks from the more powerful, they simple lay down and gave up, choosing death. Why prolong the inevitable? Pets were none existent. They were simply a food chain item.
John had given up hope of finding any family alive. His parents had been dead for many years and he was unsure of the whereabouts of his sister, Cora. He had not been able to reach her for years. Cellular phones had long ago clogged the airwaves to the point that any type of communication beyond shouting distance was just not going to happen. The last he knew she had been living on the Can-Am flatlands. He wasn’t sure if she would head home when she thought the time was right. He hoped she might, with the certainty of the future; he would like to see her once more.
Traveling was done only during the short daylight hours and the cold darkness was spent in hiding along the road. A lone traveler didn’t stand much of a chance of surviving without taking certain precautions. He had dressed himself in his warmest clothes, and taking anything he thought would aid in his travels and could fit into his backpack, he started on his last journey. He had brought only one thing he would kill or die for. He kept it close always, and would often hold it tightly, bringing back his wife with just a touch. A small gold loop earring, taken off her body before they came to collect her was all he had left of her; it was all he really had.
Rain was coming down hard and cold, making traveling at best a difficult task. John was looking for some type of shelter while keeping away from camps spread out along the roadside. Where the skies had started fires, you would find small groups of people struggling to keep them going for warmth. In other places without any control, fire had destroyed entire cities, leaving nothing but the smell of charred flesh and loss. He had started seeing less people during the daylight hours, which lead him to believe he was the only one headed north. He continued walking finding food where it was available and straining the water through cloths before drinking it. Even the water falling from the black skies was unsafe to drink.
He had been lucky, when the sickness first hit he never got the fever. The fever is what had killed off millions of people in the first wave. At first the bodies were buried in deep trenches, but as more died, they were just left abandoned in their homes or thrown from windows to the streets. The stench was unbearable and people took to wearing bandanas around their mouths and noses. The entire living world appeared to look like thieves.
The days ran together, walking was not the fastest or safest way to travel, but it was all the country had left. It’s legs. John was getting closer to the coast, the towns were thinning out and people sightings were less. He felt a little more relaxed now as he closed in on his final destination. New Maine was where John had grown up, of course it was just the state of Maine then. As the country got smaller and resources became nonexistent, the countries of America and Canada became one. It was renamed Can-Am. The states of New Hampshire and Maine became New Maine. With the loss of government funding, most states had combined together in an effort to survive. It wasn’t working. It was all shutting down. There was no support. There was no one there to hear the cries of the people. The world had not failed them, but they had failed the world. They had used all it had to offer and it was gone. Everyone knew it.
John reached New Maine and headed out to the lighthouse trying to get as close to the edge of the world as he could. He had some bizarre idea lodged in his head that when it happened, being close to the water would be comforting. That or it would be quicker. He spent the better part of the day looking for food, water and a place to sleep for the night. He spent the next day exploring the town. People spoke about digging up those buried before the sickness and eating the remains. John hoped it had not happened here in this small town, but no one could be sure of what the world was coming to. They could be sure only that it was coming to an end.
He found the lighthouse. It was separated from the mainland by a small channel and when the tide was out, you could walk across and up the hill to the front door. The color of the ocean varied from a dark purple to a raging orange, depending on how far out into you wanted to venture. No life survived in the oceans or seas of the world. The lakes, swollen with pollution and waste, were left unfit to use under any circumstance. As he stared into the fading darkness, he was left wondering.
John climbed the stairs, hanging on tightly to what remained of the railing, and standing there at the top he tried to remember what stars looked like, illuminating the sky. They had lit the way for countless years steering the mighty ships upon a deep thriving sea. He could not remember walking on clean sand, or flying kites on a windy day. He stood straining to see something out there, anything would have been better then the dark black silence. He never questioned if some God had played a part in any of this. He knew, as all mankind did, that this was everyone’s doing. There was enough blame to go around without searching the heavens for any nonexistent answers. It was all there, every warning ignored; every slip up became a cover up. It had been foretold. All of the war, disease, crime, hatred, all the poor choices made without any consideration to the consequences. The world was getting what it asked for. The world was going to end. There was no stopping it.
John spent the night in the lighthouse, burying himself under old canvas sails he found in the bottom of the stairwell. The silence was overwhelming. No other human voices, no sea winds, no birds, no rolling of the waves to lull him into a sweet slumber. There was only the deafening silence and the steady beating of his lone heart. For the first time since they had taken away his wife, John cried. He cried for what the entire world had lost. He cried for the coming of a better future, it was coming but it wasn’t better. He cried for lost lovers never finding each other, for unborn children that might have saved the world if birth had given them the chance.
He cried for all the promises made and left unfilled. He cried for the loss of blue skies and clean oceans, for trees blowing in the breeze, and for the unfelt sunshine.He cried for his loss, but mostly he cried because life for everyone was loss. He woke the next morning to darkness and more rain. It seemed to rain almost continuously now and the daylight hours were becoming less and less. He had found some old cans of food and after opening then. How many people would die wondering how it all ended? He wanted to see it happen. He stayed inside the entire day and slept tucked warmly beneath the sails of old ships. His sleep was deep, and for the first time in a long time he slept without fear of being discovered or harmed. His dreams were of the past, his wife and their home, his job and his friends. All of the dreams were of better times, when life was good and the future seemed so full of promise. Life at one time had been worth the effort, the time, the patience; it had been worth it all. It had slipped away before his eyes, before everyone’s eyes and very soon now, it would cease to be anything more then a void in space.
John stayed quietly hidden for two days, resting and trying to figure out what he would spend the last of his days doing. There was only one person he wished beside him when all this ended and she was already gone. He tried to remember songs he had sung to her, stories he had read, movies, or games he had played as a child and the friends he had enjoyed them with. Memories were like the chapters in his life, and the ending of this book was well known to its author. He slipped in and out of dreams, some enjoyable, others filled with the terror of the unknown.
On the morning of his third day in the lighthouse, he ventured back out to find more food and some source of drinking water. The rain was still falling heavy and cold. John was hoping for a short trip to locate his needs and return to the shelter he had created. He was at peace here, by the polluted ocean, alone. He located some more cans and ate from them, drinking any juices they had been stored in. He carried back all he could manage. He returned to the lighthouse and again climbed the stairs. He was still searching for something, anything, but the view remained the same. He hollered into the darkness, screaming for answers. Nothing.
He knew nothing would scream back, no answers would be carried back to him on the wind. He wanted just to know when to stop trying, when to give up and just let go. Waiting made it worse and yet he would ride this out to the very last. He would see it happen or die watching it. He wouldn’t live to tell about it but then again who would?
He woke the next morning to the ground beneath him shaking. He climbed the stairs trying to find out what was happening. He had heard most of Europe had become vast wastelands unable to sustain life, and that for the most part, human beings were gone completely from that part of the world. Earthquakes had started occurring over there on a daily basis. The rumbling continued and John felt the bones of the lighthouse cry out in protest. He circled the railed walkway and stood facing in the direction of the town. He saw the deep cuts in the earth running into the town, almost slicing it in half. There was hot stream rising and a foul green liquid spitting up into the air. The smell was unbelievable. From the height he was at; John could see the deep crevasses running for miles. This was a new wave of destruction. A new cry from a planet that could not longer exist after being worn out. John watched as the foul green waves bubbled up and started to cover the rain soaked ground, creating a swamp-like appearance. He felt that being separated from the mainland, he was safe for a short time. He wasn’t sure for how long, but for now he felt safe. He had some food left and when that was gone, so was he. He looked out across what had become of the home he had known as a child. He thought of his sister, Cora. He hoped her end had not been painful, and that she died with those she loved at her side. It struck him then that he would die alone. That no one would be beside him when he pulled in his last breath. No one would be there to hold his hand and wish him safe journey into the next world, if one existed. He stood for a long time watching with fascination as the earth split and heaved. He noticed the shoreline was changing in color, from the dark purple to the same color green the earth was vomiting. It was surrounding him. He wasn’t panicked. He was not even afraid. He figured he had about ten hours left before the trembling earth took down the lighthouse and sent him into the ocean with it.
John returned to his makeshift room and finished any food supplies he had left. He would make a feast of it. He ate all the canned food he had found and saved only a can of juice to drink later. He was suddenly very tired, full of sorrow. He though about praying, as a boy he attended church with his parents every Sunday, but he didn’t think God had survived this either. He thought about his life and how he had lived it. He had been a good man. He was kind, he never intentionally cause harm to another human being. None of this mattered, there were a lot of good people who had already died. Nothing mattered. He took out his wife’s earring and placed it in his mouth. Taking the juice can from the floor, he swallowed the earring. He wanted it with him and he thought this was best. If left in his pocket it might fall away from him, but this way she was part of him again. He rested and waited.
John waited for a long time before he climbed the stairs again. This would be his last trip and as he climbed his breathing became labored. He had to stop a few times on the way up to actually rest before continuing the climb. He never felt so old. When he finally got to the top, the water level had risen dramatically. It was at least half way up the height of the lighthouse. He thought about how ironic it was to perish in a lighthouse. A lighthouse was a beacon of hope, a light to guide you to safely to shore, away from harm. It had served him well. It had done its last job to perfection. This was his last stand, his last minutes on earth.
He could see nothing of the town anymore. It was completely gone. He imagined the entire world was pretty much gone. Maybe he was the last of the worlds children. The thought of that made him smile. He checked the water level again, and it had risen even higher. He figured it wouldn’t be much more then half an hour before the water reached his walk. He would not climb any higher. He would just ease himself into the green ocean and let himself go.
The water level was up to his chest now and he could feel the tug of the current pulling at him, trying to dislodge him from his safe place. All he had to do was let go. Just let go. It seemed silly to hang on so tight, but John did. Even knowing it was all gone, he struggled to survive. He was sure the natural instinct to survive kicked in over logic. It was now to his shoulders and John could smell the odor close up.
It wasn’t even unpleasant anymore.
With one last breath pulled into his lungs John let go of the railing and felt himself being lifted from the walk and being pulled out to into the ocean. He treaded water for a few minutes before he felt the weight of his clothes exhausting his efforts. He looked up at the sky, searching for some sign, some miracle, something to help him. His seventy-year-old body bobbed once, twice and then never resurfaced.
Sometimes the world just quietly slips away.
And it’s over.