a story fragment about death.


He stood on the beach for some time, watching the tide roll in and out bearing its ghastly treasures.
The bodies in the water that had the good sense to float drifted aimlessly, occasionally locking hands or legs with complete strangers, a formless embrace at the end of everything.
The water had long since turned black from the oil left leaking from the oil rigs out in the bay, turning the ocean the same color as the night sky. 
It never failed to twist his face into something resembling a smirk, the thought that there was finally enough oil for everyone now that there was no one left to use it, and he had never learned to drive.
It seemed... profane to him, somehow. Burning the remains of living things to power engines and travel places no one truly ever wanted to go.
At the end of things, the highways and roads had filled with cars, as many people going in one direction as the other, all of them confused and scared and unable to fight the formless instinct in their mind telling them to flee.
But flee from what? From whom? 
The end was in the air around them, absorbed into their skin and organs long before they had a chance to fight back, leaving the most educated and brightest minds decaying on the asphalt before they could ever develop a cure.
It sickened him to think about.
But he was also just sick.
He assumed it was somewhere close to morning, but he couldn't be sure. 
The wildfires raging in what was left of the hills had all but died out, exhausting themselves before ever reaching the ocean of oil only miles away, and he could barely determine where the land ended and became the sea.
He wondered about how if the dying flames were sentient, would they compare themselves to the same people who had built a world of wonders and poisoned their own air?
Or would they even spare a thought for humanity, or just see us as more fuel?
He wasn't sure he wanted to know.
He rasped to himself as he stood in the tortured sand, his hurt body and straining lungs forcing him to make noises he was no longer aware of.
His eyes burned, but that was nothing new.
His nose was leaking something, but in the dark he couldn't tell if it was blood or snot.
Didn't even know if it mattered.
He was too far gone, and he could feel it.
The disease eating away at his body had spared his brain function for the most part, but he wasn't sure that was a blessing.
There was no one left to ask how they felt, and even the wild animals had gone quiet in the night.
He hadn't had an appetite in days, but he also couldn't have found any food if he tried.
Just one of those things.
He ran a hand down the strange feeling of his ribs, grimacing.
He remembered a cartoon he had seen in his youth, where a skeleton had played its own ribcage as a xylophone.
He wondered if anyone would be left to play him.
As the night began to fade, giving way to the horrors exposed by the light, he turned and began making his way back to the shack he had claimed for himself at the edge of the beach.
When he reached the sad pile of clothes that had become his nest, he thought of the faces on the water he could have recognized if he had forced himself to look,
and grieved once more.

Submitted: June 21, 2021

© Copyright 2023 Ruben Hernandez. All rights reserved.

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