The Ashen Sands

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
What does a man do when he loses everything in the wake of the end of the world? Ask Clive, a former London banker who now roams the city's empty streets and barren dunes

Submitted: August 21, 2012

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Submitted: August 21, 2012

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Clive was a simple man. He lived in a world where simple was the only thing left. All around him the concept of “world” grew dim, inseparable from the background radiation that plagued the once great cities of man. For Clive, this was all he had left. Nothing but the quiet hum of the makeshift Geiger meter and the gentle whisper of the dust. Clive was happy. There was nothing else left for him. His life, or what he remembered of it, was now afloat on the dust devils that plague the streets.

Clive’s world was a simple one. He lived to live, nothing more and nothing less. Often he wondered what happened to the world, particularly when he was alone. He was always alone. About nine years ago (Clive tried to keep tabs on time) the world came to an end. All of it, forever. The details of the end of the world were as dim as the last embers of man.  There was a war, or something along those lines. It didn’t matter, the details trivial and pointless, fading into the abyss of ruin.

The world of today consisted of two things. Violence and dust. Nothing more and nothing less. Rarely, you could discover something useful in the remnants of man, but most of the time the only things Clive found were painful memories of his past life. The war had taken his wife from him, his child and the greater part of his sanity. Often he told himself that he was the last sane man on the world, doomed to wander alone.

A long time ago someone told him that the war of the future would be waged around one thing. Water. This prophecy came true, most of the violence in the wasteland centered on water and bullets. It was all so incredibly ridiculous. Even though the majority of the human race was dead, we still killed each other. Again, the reasons trivial and pointless.

As far as ammo went, Clive had exactly three bullets. Three fucking bullets. He used to have five but he spent one on a gurgling thing with no skin five years ago, and the other was wasted as a warning shot about six months ago. Technically, he had four bullets, one of them located in the drum of a police .38 Clive lifted from a corpse some time ago. He still wouldn’t admit the true purpose of this bullet.

Today was a day like any other. Clive spent most of his time walking, cleaning his rusty rifle and searching for water. The Thames no longer existed, replaced by a stretch of dust and junk. As a matter of fact, the more time passed, the more the line blended into the pale, grey background.

He searched high and low for supplies and ammo but found nothing. His water was running out, the last drops contained within an aged Cola bottle. He didn’t remember that there was any Cola in the bottle in the first place.

Right now, he stood at the remains of Trafalgar Square, or at least some place close to where Trafalgar Square once was, looking for figures on the horizon. Since most of London had been turned into a flat desert, this wasn’t hard to do. To the east, three figures. They were just a cluster of tired dots, moving slowly. There was no aggression in their stance and that meant one thing. Settlers.

These poor souls would traverse vast amounts of desert, ever searching for the Promised Land but only finding dust and echoes. They were not interested in conversation, only trading. If you gave them a motorcycle handbrake, they would give you a car tire. None of you two would have any use from the described items but at least the perceived transaction would be a break from the savagery of life.

To the west, four to five figures, slouched and twitchy. Mutants, formerly humans with some form of intelligence that the everlasting radiation had reduced to mere animals, savage and fiercely territorial. The only language they spoke was “death”, any other form of communication met by a flurry of claws and bites. It was terrifying what became of Mother Nature's creations by the mere intervention of man.

Clive holstered his weapon and headed after the settlers. Maybe they had water. It was unlikely that they had made it this far with no water. Most didn’t, the ones unfortunate enough to die of thirst were left to rot in the merciless heat.

The London we know is a London of buildings, monuments and traffic, ever noisy and cloudy. Clive’s London was one of dust, heat and forgotten monuments to the vanity of man. The only thing left of Trafalgar square was a leaning pillar of stone with a human-like figure on top. Form the figure’s hand hung a skeleton, its bones knocking about in the wind. It was probably a man who was killed by raiders a long time ago and put up as a territorial mark. Since the Raider’s territories disappeared many years ago, it didn’t serve much purpose except as a reminder of the brutality of life.

Clive walked past this structure, his dirty blond hair blown apart by the wind. He was not a tall man, covered in a tattered suit that was patched here and there with leather and sheet metal. If one was to observe Clive from a distance, one would think that he was a spirit of the world past, roaming the former world as a vengeful ghost, out to kill the killers of the world.

The rifle Clive held was his father’s bird hunting bolt action rifle, reduced to a lump of rusted metal by the heat and the sun. Three bullets resided in their magazine, Clive hoping that he wouldn’t have to use them, but he still cocked the rifle.

There was a simple rule to moving across the wasteland with your gun out. You needed to be fast, you needed to be smart and most importantly, you needed to be aware of your surroundings. Suddenly falling into a stray drainage ditch was not exactly what Clive hoped for. He started moving slowly, crawling along the base of the leaning pillar. If there was a sniper somewhere out there, he would shoot the moment he saw Clive’s gun. Settlers were of no use to snipers, most of them carrying trinkets and empty glass bottles. But wastelanders, strays and other loners were perfect targets, most of them a great source of ammunition. Clive knew that he was the catch of the day for any shithead with a half-decent pipe rifle.

He took a deep breath, looked down the sights of his gun one last time and ran. He ran like never before, sand getting deep into his sandals. His lungs were contracting violently, as if he was trying to drown in air. There was no time. He heard shots fly past his head, each of them missing. Just a few feet in front of him stood what appeared to be a pile of bricks. Perfect. He was only about five meters away from it. Three meters. One. He jumped, falling flat on his stomach.

The sand was warm and the bricks were just high enough for him to use them as cover. A final bullet hit the cover, spilling some dust onto Clive’s face. He checked his gun for damage and took a few quick breaths. With a single fluent and obviously practiced move, Clive put his gun on top of the brick wall, aiming into the distance. A few hundred feet away, a man stood still, gun in hands and a large amount of thick shawls on his face. He was probably out of ammo. The tables have turned.

Clive took a deep breath and exhaled, his iron sights fixed onto the man. The gun gave a quick spasm and a sharp crack. Everything stood still for a few moments, the crash of the shot rolling over the neighboring dunes. In the distance, the silhouette twitched. Clive got him. The man fell on his knees, holding his chest. He could still be dangerous. It was better if Clive just waited. A few minutes passed and Clive was thirsty. He drank the last drops of his water and looked over the cover. The man still lay where he had shot him, the sand around him darker than usual. After a few moments of silent thinking, Clive ran from the ruin to the corpse, his feet leaving traces in the sands.

At his feet stood a wrapped figure, its yellow clothes drenched in blood. Half of its chest was gone, a gaping wound there where its neck would be. Hollow-point bullets tend to do that. Clive rummaged through the figure’s satchel, its contents scarce and worthless. A few bobby pins, a framed photo and three empty glass bottles. It looked like the sniper Clive had killed was quite a prolific one, probably scoring more than one kill in his lifetime. The shawls were probably worth something. Clive ripped the facial covering off, revealing the shooters face.

She was young, probably around 16 years of age. She was pretty when she was alive. Clive snorted and folded the facial mask into his leather sack. It didn’t matter; she was out to kill him. The rifle by her side was old and pretty worthless, even though Clive could sell the firing mechanism for a substantial amount of money. He decided that it was unwise to take it with him, the second rifle making him a ripe target for a wide variety of wasteland scum.

In the distance, the travelers struck camp, a lone fire burning under what appeared to be a flipped bus. It was getting dark and Clive needed the rest. He checked his gun again. Two bullets.


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