Scars

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story tracking a lone survivor in a post apocalyptic world, and his struggle to keep his mentality up until his eventual death.
I have a commentary written up explaining my writing choices, which I may upload at a later date.

Submitted: March 13, 2014

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Submitted: March 13, 2014

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The thick, fetid air was starting to draw in. 

  The nights all seemed to blend into one, as though there were no day left at all, and the sun no longer possessed the energy to lift itself above the horizon, always just below the apex of the arch, giving enough light to silhouette the devastation left all around, but never enough to fully project the nightmare that was once called earth. For all he knew, it could still be the first night. 

  But none of it mattered any more. It was all dwarfed by one simple, primitive thought: Survive. 

  Survival was his life now. Every waking hour was dedicated to finding food and drink to satiate his body’s desperate need for sustenance. Eventually his stomach would quiet thanks to his pitiful diet of wild fruit, leaves and sometimes, in the harshest of situations, bark and roots. The rest of the day was filled with the hunt for shelter; He never felt safe taking refuge in the same place for more than he needed. 

  The thoughts of shelter made him shudder; there was no such thing as safety anymore. Even in the instances he did find somewhere hidden, there was almost a guarantee that he wouldn’t find comfort in his protection. All around were the stark reminders of a world lost forever. At first his instincts had led him to take refuge in the many abandoned homes, his need for simple human comforts outweighing the urge to hide. He soon discovered his mistake. Everywhere he hid maintained the remnants of the life that had once populated this world. 

  Wherever he was, he always expected to find something that once would have left a deep scar in his mind. By this point he didn’t believe his mentality could scar any further; feeling his daughters hand go limp in his during the panic, moments before she was ripped from his grasp, and brutally torn into two, bloody halves, had left him broken beyond what he once believed possible. There were times he was sure he could still taste the iron of her blood spatter in the back of his throat. 

  Still, his past experiences now meant that he steered well clear of man-made shelter. Walking into any one of the multitude of abandoned houses could be equated to walking into an encapsulated nightmare; the four walls half-heartedly attempting to contain the grisly scenes within. On more than one occasion he’d been forced to take shelter to avoid the stalking predators he felt ever encroaching, both outside in the forests, and inside his mind, hunting down the last of his sane thoughts. It never helped. More often than not he’d be faced with the charred corpses of helpless men and women, killed before they knew what was happening, often still in the acts they were partaking in before their lives mercilessly ended. He frequently came across families still huddled around televisions, each of their faces contorted into images of insurmountable pain. It was almost as horrifying as finding young children mutilated in their cots. 

  He had decided quickly that it was simply safer for his mentality to stay out of what was once referred to as “civilization”. His issue lied in the fact that toward the close of the event, many people had taken residence in the forests, caves and fields of the surrounding countryside, following the flaccid dream of surviving the coming apocalypse by huddling with the masses on their exodus from the labyrinths of concrete death to the forests of natural life. Of course, it was all in vain. The stupidity of man was to work together, to hide as one, and to die as a whole. 

  And so, wherever he was, his resting hours were spent in sleepless distress. His mind could not block out the memories of his past life, and the atrocities it had been forced to endure. Not once had he managed to actually drown out his tortured thoughts and relax. Instead he would simply curl up in whatever location was acting as his temporary asylum, close his eyes, and dream sleepless nightmares until he rose in a cold sweat, no more rested than before, and terrified of his own mind. 

  He used to weep; used to go foetal amongst the ashes and silently sob out his distress, in a last ditch attempt to cleanse his soul. Not anymore. His body simply lacked the strength to bother. There was no point crying in a world that didn’t listen. 

  He was always thankful for the pale illumination of a full harvest moon; it made trudging through the thick forests a much less treacherous experience. On more than one occasion he had found himself stumbling through the thick shadow, tripping on what he assumed to be roots, only to have a flash of moonlight through the cloud cover highlight the real culprit. Arms. The limbs that had once been the tools of mankind’s rise to supremacy on earth now lay strewn about the silent woodland, reaching from the ground and groping at his shins, doing their best to drag him down to join them. What had once been a survivor’s campsite had now become a hellish graveyard. 

  At this particular moment in time however, he felt no fear in what he saw. There was nothing particularly threatening about the scene before him, as the clouds spread apart and gave him his first clear view in what felt like an eternity. It was an imperfect view, with the lumbering oaks surrounding him telling a completely different story to that of the silver veil thrown over the landscape before him. The hulking trunks, all scarred with the memories of war, trembled as he passed through their gate, and out onto a mesa that overlooked the gaping maw of an open valley, carved into the forest that ran parallel against it as far as he could see. 

The dead slate walls of the valley began to glint in the pale glow, giving off a rust coloured sheen that shimmered as the highest branches brushed against the superb spotlight of the moon. His gaze was drawn down to the lowest point of the valley, at which a small stream meandered between the rocks, perpetuating its own existence as it eroded deeper into the valley. 

 For the first time in what felt like forever, a pang of relief graced his mind. Maybe there was something left. Even with the fall of mankind, the world moved on. In the midst of the chaos, this placed had remained unscathed; its beauty lived on, despite the travesty that had wounded every other facet of Earth.  

  After a short while simply revelling in his thoughts, he clambered down from the mesa, and started his trek to the stream. He no longer believed in God - How could an all loving being simply observe his torture and not intervene? - But he still felt a need to give thanks to something, for this was first peace he had found in an age. 

  The clear, flowing water was slightly sweet on the tongue. He stripped naked, and lay in the stream for a while, letting the fresh water wash over his body. For a time, he felt cleansed. 

  He was so absorbed in the feeling of relief, he never even noticed the moon return to cower behind the clouds, or the light breeze suddenly come to a halt, as if the air had been frozen in place. 

  He was only pulled out of his ecstasy upon hearing… something. He rose his head from the water, and began to focus again. Minutes passed and he heard nothing. He was just climbing out of the stream when he heard it again. The sound of a single claw, carving a gouge into the slate. Shit. Suddenly his mind was racing. He hadn’t heard that sound since he’d started travelling. This is it. There’s no way out of this. Here I am, naked at the bottom of a canyon, without the strength to climb out, and one of them in here with me. He began to search for it. It had to be around here somewhere. There was nothing else left to be making the sounds he’d just heard. He knew it was here, playing with him. 

  Just as he was about to start running, the cloud cover broke again, and he was given a brief chance to look round him. He expected to see his assailant on one of the valley walls, but there was nothing to be seen. He looked all around, and saw nothing but the perfect valley, exactly as it was before. He relaxed again; this wasn’t the first time his mind had played tricks on him. 

  Then, as he looked up, he began to see the trees surrounding the valley twinkling, as if there were a million tiny stars hanging from their branches. Only, these “stars” were shining a deep red. Blood red. 

  He froze, unable to breathe. The realisation of what he was looking at left him paralyzed. Hundreds of them, hanging from the trees, all looking down on him, their scales glinting in the dull light. They had been waiting for him, watching him. Had they just allowed him to feel one final surge of peace, before finally shattering his mind, like a mirror being thrown against the slate? 

  He heard a thud. Felt the stone under his feet shudder where he could not. Heard the regular scrape of claws on rock, as one climbed into the crevice to meet him. The hair on his arms stood on end, as he felt its warm, fetid breath on the back of his neck. It took hold of his left arm gently with its muscular, reptilian hands, and slowly turned him to face it. He stood there, staring into its eyes, unable to move. He saw no anger, no hate, and no enjoyment. He saw indifference. And that was when he truly lost all hope. An enemy that feels nothing has no boundaries. He knew it would not be kind. It would not hurry to end his suffering. 

  He did all he could think to do: he closed his eyes. He found himself lost in some childhood delusion that maybe if he wished it so, the creature before him would simply vanish. 

  Then his jaw snapped. 

  He felt its mandibles rip into his bottom jaw causing the bone to give in and shatter. He merely winced as a claw enter his sternum and tear a ragged hole in his body. He barely noticed the sound of his entrails hit the stone. He felt bones splinter, flesh tear, and organs fail. And yet his consciousness barely registered the pain, as though he were looking out from behind his eyes, deep inside the shell of his body. 

  He did nothing. He put up no resistance. He was glad to see this hell be over with, and the less he fought back, the sooner it would end.  After an eternity of pain he began to think it would never end, that somehow he had been trapped in some new nightmare. He began to believe he could not die, and would be stuck to live through his own torture forever. 

  But it did end. Eventually, the creature stopped. It merely turned around and lumbered off, leaving his remains lying on the ground, somehow still just alive. He saw all of them, clear as day, turn and leave as though nothing had happened. He was glad. He did not want them present when he passed. 

  As he felt his life drain from him, as his blood flowed down the valley and into the stream, his life did not flash before his eyes, he did not see a light at the end of the tunnel, and he was not surrounded by those he loved. He was merely greeted by one final, awful thought.  

  In this place, the only unscathed spot on earth, completely pristine in its natural beauty, he would be its wound. He was the filth that would leave this place stained. His blood that flowed down the river would not help it erode deeper into the valley: it would burn this place like a caustic wave. 

  As he watched his blood turn the crystal water to a dirty maroon, he realised something. He was just another scar.


© Copyright 2018 Lee Carpenter. All rights reserved.

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