The Apocalypse

The apocalypse was supposed to be more fun.  A band of plucky survivors, odds stacked against them, find a way to persevere in the face of constant danger.  Nobody ever talks about the loneliness and endless boredom.  Of course, in the stories, most of the survivors eventually end up dying anyway, so maybe this is better.

The problem is I never found another survivor.  I’m sure there must be others.  After all, what are the chances that I’d be the only one?  They have to be small.  I just haven’t come across any.  It is a large world.

To be fair, I haven’t gone anywhere.  Everything I need was right here.  Food.  Shelter.  Nothing was around to threaten me.  For all I knew, the rest of the world was a hellscape full of monsters or cannibals.  Traveling, just to find another person, seemed like an unnecessary risk.

The research base I had been stationed at was restocked just a week before the world went dark.  By the time I ran out of supplies, I expected to be too old to care.  The only reason to leave was boredom.  And that was not yet reason enough.

I wished I knew what had happened.  Abruptly, all communications had gone silent.  That was not supposed to be possible.  Before that moment, there had been no indication of a war, or a natural disaster, or some other catastrophe that might have been the cause.  There was just no one out there to talk to.  I was alone and didn’t even know why.

So when an alarm went off signaling someone at the external hatch of the station, I was understandably nervous.  The best case was that someone else who had survived had found this place and was looking for survivors.  The worst case…  Well, I didn’t want to think about that.  The camera showed someone in a parka.  Perhaps another member of my team, hoping this place was still safe?  Or someone who had killed someone on my team, taken their clothes, and now come to take from me as well.  I couldn’t know.

I sat, staring at my monitors but not really seeing them, wondering what to do.  If I didn’t let the newcomer in, they could die in the harsh environment outside.  But if I did, they could kill me.  Or worse.  What was the right thing to do?

My indecisive paralysis ended when I noticed the newcomer was gone from the door.  I hadn’t seen them leave.  They couldn’t have gotten in, I was sure.  Unless the security had failed.  I started scanning through the internal cameras.  Before I got halfway through them, the door to the operations room slid open.  Frantically, I looked for something to use as a weapon, but there was nothing obvious nearby.  I froze when the newcomer yelled.

“Mathis!  What the hell is going on here?”

After a stunned moment, I recognized one of my team members.  “Jackson!  Thank god.  You survived.”

He scowled at me.  “No thanks to you.  Why didn’t you let me in?”

“I wasn’t sure who it was.”

“Well why have you been offline for the last month?”

“What do you mean?”

“You haven’t reported in.  You haven’t responded to requests.  Are your comms broken?  What about the backup?”

“What are you talking about?  Everyone’s gone.  There’s no one out there to talk to.”

“What are you talking about?  No one’s gone.  Except you.  You just went silent.”

“That can’t be…”

He pushed past me and looked at the control board.  After a few moments, he got on the floor and pulled a panel off the underside.  “Here.  There are a couple of wires fried.  Let me just…”  Another minute or so, and he got up.  “Now try it.”

I flipped the switch and radio chatter flooded the room once more.

“See?”

“I just thought…”

“You didn’t bother to check?”

“Well…”

“Unbelievable.  You better call in.  You’re going to have explain all this.  Good luck.”

Delivery

The scuffing sound was nearly continuous, only the briefest of pauses to indicate the start and stop of footsteps.  It was a heavy object being dragged across rough stone.  The cave was damp and dim, with shadows everywhere and only the occasional torch upon the wall.

The hunched figure – its back severely bent, and its limbs thin and long – pulled a large sack behind.  It is best not to think about what might be in the sack.  The smell coming from it was warm and sticky.  The person, for lack of a better term, seemed unaffected by the odor, but it was weighed down, either by its load or the air in the cave.

It stopped next to a large stone that sat off to one side on the floor of the tunnel.  After a brief pause, it moved the sack to the far side of the rock and then leaned against the wall.  Its hands fidgeted with the air, as though remembering some tool or toy it once used.  The closest torch was twenty feet back the way it had come, and nothing but inky blackness lay ahead.

The wait stretched on, only the flicker of the flame indicating that time had not stopped.  At one point, the sack started to move, but it quickly went still again after a few heavy kicks.  Finally, the light dimmed even further, and the air got warmer.  The figure moved away from the wall, standing up as straight as it could.

The darkness itself began to move, taking on the shape, ever so vaguely, of a human being.  It reached out with one large hand and took hold of the sack.  Drawing it close, it paused briefly to nod its nearly shapeless head at the figure who stood.  Then the shape, and the sack, disappeared, leaving only the darkness behind.

The figure smiled, a grin with too few or too many teeth, and began slowly to retrace its steps.

To Necessity, the Mother of Invention

For much of my life, I’ve had insomnia.  My mind races with ideas.  It isn’t anxiety, not always.  Just ideas going through it and distracting me from sleep.  Perhaps it’s that I’m really a night person.  When I’ve had the chance to work night shift, it seems to suit me.  Whatever the case, since I was a teenager, I’ve always had trouble falling asleep at night.  Often, to try to quiet my mind, I’d tell myself stories.  It’s something I’ve done for almost as long as I can remember.

These stories were often indistinct, the inventions of a mind too tired to be awake and too restless to sleep.  One character regularly figured into the stories early on.  His name was Jack.  A roguish sort, heart of gold, rescuer of children.  Mainly, he was the guy who kept me safe from all of the terrible things in my mind at night.  Jack would be distilled and morphed into different characters in later stories I would write, but he started as my shield against insomnia.

I mention any of this only because there is another common feature to many of those stories.  They often began with the phrase “I need you to do something.”  The words were often spoken by an older man, white hair, long grey beard.  The “something” was never described.  It appeared in my mind like a prelude before jumping right into the action.  The “something” would be revealed as the story unfolded.  It was my version of “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”  The phrase set the stage, and I could relax into the story, eventually falling asleep.

As anyone who has ever kept a pen and notebook by their bedside could tell you, if you don’t write down your ideas when they happen, they get lost easily.  Probably none of those stories were wroth writing down.  But as I sat here, trying to write a story beginning with “I need you to do something,” I found myself wishing I could recall them.

The Room

The floor was cold, grey stone.  A single slab, by the look of it.  The walls were seemingly made of the same material, but they gave off a muted glow.  It was the only light source in the room.  I say walls, but I should say wall.  There was only one, circular and enclosing the whole space, about twenty feet across.  There was no obvious seam between the wall and floor, either, so perhaps the whole room was carved out of one very large rock.

The ceiling, if there was one, was out of sight, shrouded in darkness above.  Had I not felt trapped, perhaps I might have appreciated the architectural feat the room represented.  As it was, I had woken up in this place without any idea of how I had gotten here, or even where here was.  No doors were visible in the floor or wall.  If I had fallen, my injuries would be greater than the scrapes I had received from the rough floor.  Maybe I had been lowered down.  Or maybe there were doors well hidden from sight.

Whatever the case, it was clear I was not going anywhere right now.  After being awake for only a few minutes, I could feel panic rising.  Was this a prison?  Or was this just a very odd cavern I had stumbled into?  The room gave no answers, only its muted light.  I was helpless and at the mercy of my situation.  I tried to calm down, tried to distract myself.  An empty room was a poor environment in which to try, but the alternative was madness.  All I could do was sit and wait.  And hope that someone knew I was here.