By Alana Ballantyne
They are all gone now.
The pods are empty. The place you call home is still and quiet as the grave.
But the flowers sing in the morning and it is still a beautiful world.
You make your way through the tall grass and try to take it in. Who knows how many mornings you have left? The wind is sweet on your skin and you stop often. You take your time. You like the work, it is all you have done every day for as long as you can remember.
It is difficult to remember the Before. Before the sickness. Before the disappearances. Before you began this slow, creeping walk toward the inevitable. Sometimes you wonder if there ever even was a Before, or if it has only ever been After.
When you can bear to think of anything, you think about Them. You think about how they must have looked on their last days. All haggard and drawn and always tired. Sort of how you imagine you look now. You wish someone could see you.
Their faces blend together in your memory; indistinct and distant. When they were here, they were extensions of your own being; as familiar to you as an arm or a leg. But now that they are gone, conjuring even one face from the crowd feels like trying to pull a raindrop from a raging stream. It makes sense, you guess, though it pains you. You were never really individuals. You were workers, survivors. Parts of a whole. An indivisible group, now divided.
Someone brought IT in. It was probably an accident. You had lasted so long, together. You had watched the world die around you, watched the grass yellow and the sky darken and felt the wind grow colder and colder. You had clung to each other, relied on each other when you stopped hearing from the other groups. You had worked together, sang together, huddled together to discuss the next day’s work. The hum of the day-to-day drowned out your sorrow. The clammer and the movement made the terror easy to ignore.
But then someone brought IT in.
It is always quiet now. There is no one to sing with. No one to sleep next to. No one to share the burden. You were not made for solitude. You were not made for silence.
You can feel IT. Whatever IT is. Whatever was unleashed on your world all those generations ago. IT is in your blood now. IT flows through your system. Back and forth. Back and forth. Blackening and breaking and draining the life from you. Some days you can feel IT behind your eyes like a pulse.
You are dying. You are dying. You are dying.
IT agitates you. IT stirs you in the night. IT makes you buzz and pace and fear. The others had it easy. They went quickly or wandered off one day and never returned. They had someone to remember them. To miss them. To mourn them. There will be no one to mourn you. If a tree falls in the forest...
To be the last one. The only one. It is too much for someone, alone. The weight of it all bares down on you, presses into you, grinds you into the floor. You claw the walls. You scream into the darkness, at the shadows in the corners and the empty spaces around you. In those moments you swear you can feel the universe’s indifference. You know, on those nights, that you do not matter and no one you ever knew mattered and you are nothing; an insignificant blip in the cosmos. On your worst nights, when you feel you have cried every tear in your body and you can feel the pulse deep inside you, you think about never getting up again.
But there is no one else to do what must be done. There is no one else to complete the directive. You are alone. Dying and alone. And there is so much work. So when the light comes, you gather what strength you have and journey out to face the day.
This day is different. You can feel IT as you lay among the flowers and look up at the sun. IT is louder than before and you can’t move. Not really. It should scare you, you think, that you are so, so tired. But you no longer have the will to be frightened. You barely have the will to be at all.
Perhaps the sun is colder than it was, you think. Yet another signal of your world coming to and end. It is comforting that the world dies a little with you. All you ever tried to do is to do right. To do what you were meant to do. To finish the unfinishable. And now all you can feel is the pulse. Your work has taken you so far from home today.
The flowers still sing, but softer now. The wind blows in the tall grass. And everything goes quiet.
She did a double take when she saw it. It was laying in the grass under a few droopy daisies, legs drawn up into itself; unmistakably dead. A honey bee.
She picks it up. She’s not sure why. It isn’t wise to linger anywhere long. She studies the little creature, now curled on its side in her palm. She wonders how long it had gone on alone.
She looks out onto the desolate plain before her. Acres of dead grass sway in the wind and the air is thick. It smells like a dust storm and she needs to find somewhere to ride it out.
She buries the little bee under its daisies, tucks it in like she would a child. She has an idea that it is only sleeping, and when she leaves it will get up and begin it’s work again.
She fixes the strap on her backpack, walks into the tall grass and does not cry.
Alana Ballantyne is a freelance journalist and short story writer currently pursuing her J.D at Michigan State University.