Remnants In Ash

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic


A short story written for ShadaStorm120's contest, 'The One That Binds Us.'

Submitted: November 07, 2017

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Submitted: November 07, 2017

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Remnants In Ash

How long is it since the world changed? Almost impossible to tell, really. We don’t even have changing seasons any more to help us keep track of the passing years; it is all just unbearable heat, day after day after day.

I can clearly remember when the planet was green and blue. The plants, the trees, the abundance of ‘life’. And the sea, the rivers, the lakes; many of those are nothing more than deep scars on the landscape now, reminders of marine and water life that has long since been extinguished. Those were the days of gold, oil, technology. Diamonds were worth a fortune, people could make more than enough money to last a lifetime by having just and idea and a lucky break. These days their wealth would be worthless for the most valuable commodity is water, followed closely by food and shelter from the heat and from the terrors of the sky.

How much further shall we go?” Kal asks, breaking in to my thoughts.

There are four of us, making the journey, chasing the rumor. There were five, but Sasha did not make it. It was hard to walk off and leave a friend to the ravages of the sun, and the mouths of the beasts. But that is what life is like now – cruel and merciless!

I take a quick glance at my companions. They are filthy, covered head to toe in dust and ash, skin gone beyond red from the rays of that unforgiving ball of gas that hangs solemnly in the sky. They need to rest, that’s obvious.

The first shelter we find we’ll take, okay!” I didn’t want to be leader, hate being put in charge, but the others in the group are not much more than kids. Many have no real memories of how things used to be. I really wasn’t given much choice. “All of you, keep your eyes peeled. Yell if you see anything promising.”

As we carry on trudging across the baked grounds, I let myself return to my thoughts, the memories I’m no longer quite sure I should trust.

We’d been expecting it for years, some kind of apocalyptic disaster. Global warming, nuclear war, disease, a strike from a meteor; all of these were considered to be very real and imminent threats. But we had absolutely no idea of what was actually to be our downfall. The dragons that we had thought long extinct, if we even believed in them at all, had been hiding inside our planet.

The first clue we had to anything being wrong was the sudden extreme rise in temperature. This was not a degree or two, but ten, twenty degrees overnight, and the thermometers just kept on rising. Before the first dragon had even emerged many people and creatures had perished, unable to survive in the unforgivable heat, struck down in their homes, on the streets, in the wilds.

And then they came from the mountains, spilling lava as the land split open to release these giant beasts upon the world. But it was not only existing mountains that they emerged from. New ones sprung up, almost over-night. Nowhere in the world was safe.

Hardy, watch out!”

The shout breaks in to my thoughts. The desert cat is only a few feet away from me. These are some kind of hybrid feline, huge, think waist height. They prowl the waste-lands looking for food, for scraps, but rarely attack the living. I guess you could call them the clean-up crew for the dragons. This one has been feeding, the remains of it’s feast, no more than bones, left in a heap behind it.

I should shoot it. It would feed us for a week. But the thoughts of the past have muddled my thinking. I’m thinking in a compassionate rather than survival way. I pick up a rock and hurl it, giving the cat a chance to escape. It takes it, turning tail and racing off into the distance.

What?” Gaz is angry, watching his next planned meal take flight, but I am in no mood to explain myself.

Kal shouts at just the right moment to halt what could have become a confrontation. “Look! Over there!”

We all turn to look where Kal is pointing and there does seem to be....something, there. Not caves, but we are rarely lucky enough to stumble upon them. They provide the best shelter, at least from the heat, but there are others that live there too, some sort of reptilian hybrid that will happily gorge itself on living flesh. Caves can just as easily lead to doom as to survival.

Can’t quite make it out from here. Who’s for checking it out?”

A unanimous decision changes our course. It will take us a while to reach it; it’s going to be ages before we’ll even have an idea if it is going to provide shelter, but we have to find somewhere soon and there’s no other visible option. The sky is beginning to lose it’s brightness and soon the dragons will be the ones lighting up the sky.

I don’t even think any more as we make our way towards it. It is a wreck, burnt out and rusted, half buried in the ground. As shelter it is a long way from being perfect but so much better than being stuck outside in an endless field of ash. I don’t have to tell them to speed up, we all find ourselves almost breaking in to a jog.

The door of the coach is hanging off. We’ll have to find a way of closing off the entrance, blocking it up, trapping ourselves inside. Not that a dragon could fit through it, mind you, but it could thrust it’s head inside and burn us all to a crisp. The trick is to stay unnoticed. That is the only way to survive the night.

Many of the windows are still intact, at least on one side. We’ll find some way of covering the broken ones, even if we have to resort to using some of our own scraps of cloth. We all scrabble inside and move some seats forward, breaking them to make a barricade that covers the open gap. Hopefully it will be inconspicuous enough not to attract any interest. We’ll refresh ourselves with a few drops of water each, munch on some of the sun-baked scraps of meat we have picked up on our travels. We never know what it is that we are eating, it’s better that way, I think.

We have just settled ourselves when the first streak of fire flashes across the sky. The huge shape of the dragon flies in to view, the powerful beating of its wings enough to make the entire coach shudder. The four of us peer out through gaps, not making a sound. When I’d listened to tales of dragons as a child I’d never have guessed how good hearing they have. So often it is sound that gives one away.

The roar makes the ground shake. They rarely fight each other but when they do it is horrendous to witness. They slash and attack with their knife-like claws, grip with their teeth and tear at their opponent. The roars and the howls are impossible to drown out, even if you are many miles away. Once started there is only one thing that will bring a fight to an end and that is death.

The flames flicker and flash and the wingbeats steadily surround us in sound. I watch but let my mind wander back to the past.

It did not take long for almost all of humanity to fall under the dragons onslaught. Other species were wiped out quickly, having nowhere to seek shelter. Trees were burnt where they stood, crops were ignited, turned to ash, and many who had not already died were left to starve. Many gave themselves up to the dragons rather than endure days of endless agony, or the grief of having witnessed a loved one become charred before their eyes.

The only survivors were small groups like ours. We rarely come across each other but when we do there is suspicion. But if we get past that, the talk will turn to ‘The Girl’! Is she even real? Or just a myth? A fantasy that has been created to stave off the boredom of our daily struggle?

Her name is Dawn, at least that is what I have heard. Unlike us, she still looks human, clean; dresses in clothes, not the tattered bits of cloth that we wrap around ourselves to protect us from the sun. It is even said that she is friends with the dragons although I think, if she even exists at all, this is just too stupid to give credit to. It is said that she comes and goes at will, appearing out of the ground and vanishing again.

Whether she is real or not, it is her that we are in search of.

Eventually we get used to the flashes of light, the sizzles of flame and the thrum-drum of wing beats, and we sleep. Fitfully, with lots of waking, stirring, turning over, but it is better than nothing at all. Unlike the deserts of before, the temperature here does not drop at night. Perhaps it would slightly if it wasn’t for those massive beasts breathing out their fiery breath.

When we emerge from the coach, the dragons have gone, to be replaced by that massive orange orb in the sky. The remains of a desert cat lay nearby so we’ll have breakfast without diminishing our pitiful food stocks. The thought that it might have been the one that I let go flashes through my mind.

Setting off towards the coach has actually put us right on track to reach the reported sighting place of the girl. We’ll get there before the day is out, easily. Maybe still have time to search out another hiding place or even return to the coach.

As we set off, Kal moves up close to me. “Do you think she’s real? This Dawn?”

I don’t know, Kal. Your guess is as good as mine.” I don’t know whether I believe in her existence or not, that is the honest truth, and I am not going lie.

If she’s real, do you....do you think she might take me....us...with her?”

Oh, the look of hope on his face is enough to break my heart. How can I say no? How can I dash his one ray of hope in this seer and barren land. I can’t, I don’t, I just shrug.

Look!” Melly has finally found her voice. “There’s something there, moving!”

And she could be right. There is a crop of burnt tree trunks in front of us and it does look like there is some kind of movement going on. Without saying a word we get in to our hunt formation and sprint towards the trees. We might be weak from lack of food, but we are strong from all the constant exercise. If there is anything there we will catch it. Or her.

And there she is, in front of us. This girl with pale, clean and unburned skin, her long flowing dark hair cascading down her back. Long hair! That is something that does not exist now. The sun makes it brittle and it breaks. She is dressed in clean, black, beautiful clothes. And she is real!

Dawn?” I ask.

She turns towards me, a strange smile on her face, half quizzical, half mocking. “You know my name?”

You are a bit of a myth....a legend round these parts.”

Again I am confronted by that smile. She is taking tiny steps sideways, as though trying to make for an escape route, but I can see nowhere for her to go. “And what do they say about me?”

That you are Dawn. That you will bring about a new age.”

She laughs out loud at that. “They do, do they? Dawn of a new age! But maybe I am Dawn of destruction. Have any of you ever thought about that?”

And so saying, she vanishes. The ground just seems to swallow her up and close again almost instantly. Kal wails, flings himself to the ground where she had so recently been standing.

Take me with you! Please, Dawn. Take me with you!” It should be pathetic to watch, his banging on the ground and crying. But it’s not. It’s heart-breaking.

To have got so near and to have achieved nothing! But is it nothing? We’ve all seen her, all heard her speak. We’ve all heard the puzzle of her words. Is she the one responsible for what is almost a dead world, or is she the key to a whole new chance. Or is she as powerless to change things as the rest of us?

We’ll go on, move off, spread the word of her existence to the few people we might meet. But I can’t help wondering even now, was she really there or did we all just ‘wish’ her to be. How long before Dawn becomes nothing more than another jumbled memory inside my head?

 

 

 

(2210 words).

 

 


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